Residents Demand Apology Over ‘Rockygate’

Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel – November 2, 2000
By John W. Allman

DAVIE — They called for his job, but Mayor Harry Venis did not speak. They called for an apology, but Venis said nothing. They called the three-term mayor an embarrassment and still Venis sat quiet.

Wednesday night’s Town Council meeting was a contrast in sides: one side demanding answers of Venis as to his role in the town’s hiring of Rocky Johnson, a friend and business partner. The other side defended Venis.

Johnson 56, a part-time activities leader at Pine Island Community Center, was suspended with pay Sept. 21 after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

Among the allegations being investigated by Davie police are statements that Johnson had sexual relations at the community center; that he groped a female employee; and that he asked a 12-year-old girl to play strip poker.

Johnson, whose son is “The Rock,” a popular professional wrestler, has denied the allegations. His employment with the town ended Sept. 30 when his contract expired.

Venis, who is opening a professional wrestling school in Davie with Johnson, has said little since the allegations surfaced.

He has said he called for a police investigation, yet he also has moved forward with plans to open the wrestling school.

The issue, one resident said Wednesday night, is now being called “Rockygate” by people in the town.

“Rockygate has been an embarrassment,” resident Gerry McClinton said, addressing Venis. “If I were you, I would be stepping down.”

Doug Notman, a parent whose children were at Pine Island while Johnson worked there, asked Venis why the mayor has not apologized for not talking action more swiftly once he learned of the allegations.

Venis has said he first heard rumors of possible misconduct on Labor Day. Johnson was not suspended until about three weeks later.

Notman brought up Venis’ last apology in 1997, when Venis addressed the town after it was revealed the mayor had paid for sex acts at a Dania Beach massage parlor a year earlier.

“Why haven’t you apologized to the camp children at Pine Island Community Center and the parents?” Notman asked.

Venis did not respond to the question. He did tell Notman that the town will provide answers to 29 questions Notman submitted Monday regarding Johnson and other town issues.

Several people offered Venis support during the meeting and questioned why the mayor has been singled out in the Johnson investigation.

Venis drove Johnson to his job interview, sat in on the interview and was listed by Johnson as a reference. Johnson received numerous perks during his less than four months as a temporary employee, including use of a town-issued cellular phone, use of a town vehicle and advance warning of disciplinary action before he was suspended.

Acting Town Administrator Tom Willi has said he gave Johnson advance notice of his suspension because Johnson is a friend of Venis.

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