Conversation reported in Beacon article “Council squabbles over appointment” to Charter Review Committee reads like juvenile bickering. Appointee Robert Castles resigned under scrutiny by Mayor Leslie Waters and Councilor Chris Burke. Burke didn’t vote.
Councilman Thomas Barnhorn couldn’t recall if he voted. Against procedure, Jim Quinn abstained. Former Councilor Dan Hester, with valuable experience, was considered then rejected. Hester warned of legal challenge. Edelman voted “to get it over with.” Attorney Jay Daigneault advised the process should not be so hard.
In Beacon article “Seminole’s Mayor Waters ‘a bully’” Councilor Matthews notes his mistreatment through Waters’ numerous interruptions in meetings. I attest to Waters’ bullying from my six years on council. I was censured, and for no stated reason. Censure has spread to other councilors. It was a matter of time until bullies bullied each other.
An article “Complaint filed against mayor” “Seminole volunteer/journalist alleges inappropriate behavior by Mayor Waters,” was published in the Beacon. This complaint by local journalist, Steven Hirschfield, details Waters’ “inappropriate and threatening actions.” According to Hirschfield Waters angrily demanded to know why he attended meetings, asserting he had “no business meddling” nor “placing public records requests.” Waters apparently doesn’t know public meetings are just that: public. According to law, requestors of information need not even provide their names. Waters’ words “there is nothing inappropriate of an elected official to acknowledge someone’s interest and/or receipt of public records” substantiate Hirschfield’s contention. Hirschfield wrote that Waters sat behind him, placed her hand on his shoulder, and threatened to “heed her advice.” Will such unethical words and actions result in a lawsuit?
I am familiar with such tactics, as council attempted to make me, and only me, pay for records requests. The council demanded to know where I got information. Beacon editorial “Seminole’s actions fail the smell test” scrutinized Seminole’s game playing with Sunshine Laws.
Hirschfield tried to distance himself from Waters but her “assault” continued. He viewed her threats as an “attack on a member of the media.” Hirschfield is a journalist and a taxpayer within Seminole’s Fire District. He volunteers on our Community Emergency Response Team. Brad Dykens, CERT Manager corroborates Hirschfield’s story in a statement regarding his conversation with Waters. According to Dykens, Waters approached him in the Fire Station, asking why Hirschfield was at the meeting. Dykens also said Waters informed him that Hirschfield “should not be there” and advised Dykens “should do something about it.” Dykens’ discomfort with Waters’ perceived coercion prompted him to ask to include the Fire Chief. Waters then said not to inform Chief Heather Burford. Attorney Jay Daigneault later wrote he accepted Mr. Hirschfield’s complaint as true.
These articles expose a pattern of Waters’ egregious interactions with media, elected officials, staff, and volunteers.
Personal embarrassments for these elected officials ultimately reflect negatively on the perpetrators. However, they also reflect poorly on Seminole’s reputation. Threats and abuse of power epitomize the worst in elected office. Does their behavior represent the people and serve the best interests of Seminole?
Seminole’s Charter defines the job of Mayor: “Mayor shall be a member of City Council and preside at meetings of Council, shall have a vote, but shall have no administrative or executive duties.”
The job is simply to facilitate public meetings. Even through varying viewpoints and disagreement, people deserve to be heard. Not doing so demonstrates a lack of leadership skills.
My suggestions to Charter Review appointees: Use Charter Section 6.03. Conduct of Elections to enact term limits. Also, format ballots to vote for only one candidate, with highest two winning. This would eliminate incumbents’ unfair advantage of sharing voters.
Seminole deserves better. I did my best to represent Seminole with civility, humility and truthfulness. I experienced bullying but did not respond in kind. Community volunteers anchor our library and public events yet few people attend official meetings. I urge Seminole to put out a welcome mat of inclusiveness, transparency and respect.
Patricia Plantamura, Seminole