SEMINOLE – City officials are looking into allegations that Seminole's Community Development Director Mark Ely made a verbal threat against Councilor Patricia Plantamura last month.
According to a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office incident report filed on May 7 by Plantamura and City Clerk Rose Benoit, Ely allegedly told Benoit that “if the [City Council] could they would put a ‘hit’ out on Council Woman Plantamura.”
Ely denies making the statement.
“It’s simply not true,” he said. “I thought Clerk Benoit and I had a collegial relationship, but I guess that’s not the case.”
No criminal charges were filed against him after police determined that Ely did not directly threaten Plantamura or Benoit.
Benoit told police that Ely made the comment on May 1 while discussing an email that was to be sent to Plantamura in response to a public information request she’d made regarding the City Charter.
City Manager Frank Edmunds tasked Benoit with the job of drafting a response to the email, she told police. Edmunds also assigned Ely to assist her with the email.
According to the police report, Ely provided Benoit with the response and told her that she, rather than Edmunds, would send the email.
In a June 4 memo sent to Pat Mickunas, a human resources officer in the city, and copied to Edmunds and City Attorney John Elias, Benoit wrote, “I refused to accept the draft and stated that I was not going to send someone else’s words as my own in an email that called for a response from City Manager Edmunds.”
Ely “then got an attitude” with her, she told police, and made his alleged threat against Plantamura.
Unsure what to do immediately after the May 1 incident, Benoit waited a week before contacting Plantamura to tell her about the alleged threat. Benoit called Plantamura on her lunch break to tell her about the comments. They decided independently to file a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office, Plantamura said.
Sheriff’s Deputy Damian Peyinghaus, who took Benoit’s and Plantamura’s complaints, visited Edmunds and Ely at City Hall on May 14 to follow up on the incident.
Edmunds said that neither Benoit nor Plantamura reported the incident to him and he learned about it from the deputy’s visit. This goes against city protocol, he said.
“At no time was my office made aware of the incident … The process would typically be that when there is an incident that offends or disturbs an employee they’re encouraged to report it within three days,” he said.
He added, “It’s unfortunate that Clerk Benoit and Councilor Plantamura elected to not make me aware of the alleged event.”
Though Peyinghaus determined that no direct threat was made, he recommended that the women report the incident to the city’s Human Resources department.
“It is apparent that the Deputy sensed a hostile work environment,” Plantamura wrote in a June 2 email to Edmunds that also was distributed to Elias, the City Council and the Sheriff’s Office.
“I took [Ely’s] statement to be offensive, malicious and intimidating,” Benoit wrote in her memo to Mickunas. “I take verbal threats and/or comments very seriously. Such comments and/or behavior are improper, unacceptable, and disrespectful and must not happen again in the work place. Statements of violence are sometimes a warning of a possible danger to an intended party and disrupt the peace of mind and safety of any individual. I feel that this type of behavior and/or actions and/or communications make doing my job impossible.”
Benoit also complained to Human Resources about the way Edmunds handled the incident after meeting with Deputy Peyinghaus.
In her June 4 memo, Benoit stated that Edmunds set up a May 23 meeting that included Ely. But Edmunds wouldn’t provide the nature of the meeting or allow her to invite Plantamura, Mickunas or Deputy Peyinhaus, she wrote.
“I was totally surprised by the lack of concern City Manager Edmunds showed towards the seriousness of my allegation,” she wrote. “His main concern during the meeting was why I did not report the incident to him first. I expected City Manager Edmunds to be vigilant, to investigate the complaint and address the complaint. Instead I found myself being treated as the offender because I reported the offense; the verbal threat!”
Plantamura also said she’s concerned that Edmunds isn’t taking the incident seriously enough.
In her June 2 email to him, she wrote, “It is still troubling to me that you, as Manager of our City, did not telephone to advise me of any concern, whether a threat was made or if it was not, with assurance that there would be zero tolerance in Seminole administration or government for any such behavior. Any reasonable person and certainly the Manager of a City should take this report seriously.”
Edmunds said he will review Benoit’s complaint to Human Resources and discuss it with legal counsel. He said he can’t provide an accurate timeframe for the investigation because “the timing of her complaint is now 30 days after the alleged incident.”
He added, “There’s no evidence that I’m aware of to support either the allegation or the denial.”
Revised to change the sequence of events of Benoit telling Plantamura about Ely's alleged comments.