BELLEAIR BEACH — A move by Mayor Joseph Manzo to get additional security protection at City Council meetings on an ongoing basis got no support from the council.
The mayor had called a special meeting for Nov. 18, prior to a scheduled workshop, with that topic being the only item on the agenda. Manzo read the agenda item and asked for a motion. There was no response.
The meeting ended before it began.
The purpose of the special session was to authorize the city manager to hire additional sheriff, police, or private security to provide protection at all council meetings and establish a safety and protection plan for council meetings.
Attached to the agenda was a nearly full-page letter from Manzo explaining why he believes the added security is needed.
In the letter, Manzo describes what he called “a breakdown in sheriff coverage” at council meetings. The November meeting, Manzo said, “began with four sheriff’s deputies and ended with none.”
He also cites what he termed “the dangerous situation” that happened when former City Attorney Paul Marino and his supporters disrupted a June council meeting to the point of Manzo having to temporarily stop it and phone for sheriff coverage.
According to the report on that meeting published in the Bee, Marino, who was being terminated after 20 years as the city attorney, repeatedly tried to speak, and was told by Manzo he could not speak unless called on. Manzo did call for a sheriff’s deputy. A resident later tried to read Marino’s written comments during the public comment section of the meeting and was told by Manzo she was out of order.
Manzo’s letter goes on to cite another occasion that lacked sheriff coverage. He said that following the Nov. 4 council meeting, there was an incident at City Hall that including “two separate confrontations in the parking lot involving the mayor and vice mayor (Glenn Gunn).”
A 14-page police report describes the incident involving an encounter between Manzo along with his girlfriend June VanScoyoc and residents Richard Colucci and his wife, Barbara. Barbara Colucci is also the town clerk for Belleair Shore.
In the report, eyewitnesses tell of an apparently heated argument between Manzo and Richard Colucci.
Manzo said in his letter that a citizen “repeatedly challenged me to a fistfight,” while the police report tells of heated comments on both sides, including City Manager Lynn Rives hearing Manzo repeatedly say that he was going to “kick Richard’s ass.”
Rives said he spoke with council member Marvin Behm, who was a witness to the event, and “was told the verbal altercation was a result of a social media post on NextDoor Neighborhood mobile application.”
Vice Mayor Glenn Gunn, who Manzo said was involved in a separate incident in the parking lot, told the Bee he knew of no such happening.
The Sheriff’s Office involvement in the incident between Manzo and Colucci was prompted by Colucci calling law enforcement that night. The police report states, “Richard (Colucci) stated that he initially did not want to report this to the Sheriff’s Office; however, he felt Joseph (Manzo) may attempt to make contact with him again tonight. Richard was concerned Joseph would drive to his home and knock on the door.”
In citing the need for added police protection at council meetings, Manzo said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gaultieri has “made it quite clear to me that his men do not want to get involved in issues between citizens and the council at the meetings.”
Manzo asks in his letter whether council should “just wait until there is physical violence” or “address the issue right now.”
“Safety of the community is the number one goal of our strategic plan — and if we cannot protect the council during and immediately after its meetings — we truly have a problem,” Manzo said, wrapping up his plea for the hiring of additional security.
Former Council Member Wanda Schwerer said she definitely objects to “having taxpayer dollars used for such a purpose.” In a letter to city officials, Schwerer said she believes “our mayor and/or his partner have brought much of this upon themselves.” She said, “I think they feel the need to defend themselves from differences of opinion, but that shouldn’t require physical protection from residents.”
Schwerer’s final comment was, “I find this entire topic to be an embarrassment to the city.”