SEMINOLE – Councilor Chris Burke motioned to censure Councilor Patricia Plantamura during the July 8 Seminole City Council meeting.
Vice Mayor Thom Barnhorn asked Burke to clarify what he meant by censure.
“To state your displeasure. That’s all it means,” Burke said.
The motion carried 6-1. Plantamura was the lone “no” vote.
Burke read from a prepared statement after making the motion.
“Lately, there has been a significant amount of activity in our government that I believe is not in the best interest of the city, and I feel compelled to comment on some things which our citizens ought to know,” he said. “One of our council members [Plantamura,] is not acting in the best interest of our city or our voters … join me in asking her to cease and desist in … frivolous matters and focus on governing the city of Seminole, or otherwise step down from the Seminole City Council to let us bring decorum and leadership back to our city.”
He said that Plantamura’s “incessant attacks” on City Manager Frank Edmunds influenced Edmunds’ decision to retire early, “the result of which will be a devastating loss to our city.”
Edmunds, who wasn’t at the July 8 meeting, announced his retirement date, Jan. 16, 2015, at the council’s June 10 meeting. At the time, he said he was looking forward to spending more time with family.
In a July 14 email to the Seminole Beacon, Edmunds wrote that his contract allows him to work through the end of July 2016.
“Earlier this year my wife and I discussed retirement,” he wrote. “We feel that January 2015 is good for me. The only thing [the] Plantamura/[City Clerk Rose] Benoit incident did was to move the announcement sooner than later.”
The incident he’s referring to is an alleged verbal threat that Community Development Director Mark Ely made against Councilor Plantamura on May 1. According to a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office incident report filed on May 7 by Plantamura and Benoit, Ely told Benoit that “if the [City Council] could they would put a ‘hit’ out on Council Woman Plantamura.”
Ely denied making the statement, and the investigation of the matter is closed.
Benoit and Plantamura also complained about the way Edmunds handled the incident. Benoit sent a June 4 memo to the city’s Human Resources Department, while Plantamura sent Edmunds a six-page email, which was also distributed to City Attorney John Elias, the City Council and the Sheriff’s Office, on June 2.
In this email 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.”
In his statement after motioning to censure Plantamura on July 8, Burke also said that her “barrage of emails” to city staff “to satisfy her personal grudge regarding the 2007 election” has caused “significant loss of tax dollars and staff hours.” She’s also “left official meetings early or stormed out when she did not care for the meeting dialogue,” he said, and “abused her position as city councilor in an attempt to influence the Charter Review Committee’s work.” And, he said, she “has not fulfilled her council duty to submit the city manager’s annual evaluation for the past three years.”
Earlier in the meeting, Plantamura said she did not fill out this year’s evaluation for the city manager yet because she had several questions she was still waiting for Edmunds to answer.
“I stand by my request to get answers to those simple questions and note that lack of answers to questions indicates a lack of transparency in government,” she wrote in a July 14 email to the Seminole Beacon.
Burke also referenced the allegations against Ely.
“Clearly [his] statement, if it was even said, was rhetorical and not intended to cause fear in anyone,” Burke said.
In her June 2 email to Edmunds, Plantamura also complained of “bold confrontations” by Mayor Leslie Waters and Councilor Bob Matthews. Plantamura said Matthews confronted her after a council meeting about turning in a report, and Waters publicly criticized an invocation she made at a meeting.
Because of those confrontations, Plantamura has requested that a Sheriff’s deputy be present at each council meeting.
The report mentioned in the email was Plantamura’s evaluation of the city manager, Matthews said in an interview. She hasn’t handed in a city manager evaluation in the past three years, he said.
“I can’t believe anyone would consider me to be a threat,” he added.
At the July 8 council meeting, he said, “A difference in opinion does not constitute a threat.”
He also jumped to the defense of Edmunds in a written statement at the meeting.
“As city manager, you couldn’t have done it any better than [Edmunds has] done it,” Matthews said, adding that Plantamura’s actions towards him are “inexcusable.”
After the motion passed, Mayor Waters said, “It’s my opinion that the city manager, as well as the council, needs to get back to focusing on good government policies, multimillion-dollar projects throughout the city, the safety and security of our neighborhoods, and of utmost priority, attention to our $14 million dollar budget. Sometimes other issues distract us from our goals.”
Waters then motioned that Edmunds bring to the council “current or future requests for information that he deems not in the best interest and/or necessary and/or beneficial to the city.”
She said this wouldn’t affect official public records requests, which would continue to be handled by the city clerk.
“It does not affect the public records process in the least,” she said.
In a July 14 email to the Seminole Beacon, Waters said her motion was based on information requests made by Plantamura.
In April, Plantamura requested information related to the Charter Review and, “39 pages were copied and distributed to each member of Council,” Mayor Waters wrote, as well as members of the Charter Review committee.
Last month, Plantamura also requested a copy of the city’s public records policy, which amounted to 2 inches of paper, Mayor Waters wrote. Per city policy, each councilor received a copy of this, as well, and it “cost $533 when printed by an outside source for seven people,” Mayor Waters wrote.
Matthews requested that the motion be amended so that these items will be discussed in public at council meetings.
This motion passed 6-1, with Plantamura being the sole “no” vote.
“Having council members answer on behalf of our manager, or voting for council to screen future questions to the Manager, does not demonstrate confidence in Edmunds’ ability to answer for himself,” Plantamura wrote in a July 14 email to the Seminole Beacon. “This draws more attention to the unanswered questions, which are easily accessible to anyone through a public information request. People should inform themselves and ask: What questions that the Councilor is asking are drawing so much deflection in answering?”
She added, “In spite of the Council’s vote of displeasure (censure) of my due diligence, I am encouraged by many community members’ comments through which they recognize that, in asking questions, I am doing the work of a Councilor.”
She also expressed concern over the number of prepared statements made by council members at the July 8 meeting.
It could “cause the public to wonder, by the number of prepared opinions, and the consistent subject matter, whether an effort may have been coordinated outside of and before the Council meeting. If so, this would be a violation of Florida Sunshine Standard law.”
Waters and Matthews said they were unaware Burke planned to make a motion regarding Plantamura that night.
In an interview, Waters said the council’s concerns about Plantamura have “been bubbling up and simmering” since the beginning of the year, and called her actions “erratic.”
While she doesn’t enjoy the drama that comes with it, she said, the concerns hadn’t been addressed, likening them to “the 300-pound gorilla in the room.”
They had to be addressed, she said.
“I think Councilor Burke put it quite eloquently,” she added.
Matthews also expressed his concerns about Benoit at the July 8 meeting.
“It is my opinion that the clerk failed to follow City Council policy regarding action minutes for the June 10 council meeting,” he said. “She prepared verbatim minutes for the benefit of Councilor Plantamura in complete disregard to City Council.”
Benoit’s relationship with Plantamura troubled him, he said, and led him to believe “the position of clerk [was] compromised.”
He later motioned for a vote of no confidence in the city clerk, but withdrew the motion when he didn’t get an immediate second.