Local News

AP public records brouhaha heats up

AVON PARK - The City of Charm's latest controversy involves City Manager Julian Deleon's public records request to members of the Police Pension Board, which was addressed and contested at Monday's city council meeting. "I have reasonable suspicion and very serious concerns that there is an active effort trying to terminate the police pension system for the City of Avon Park," Deleon told the city council. "That would amount to a multi-million dollar liability. It would cripple the city." Deleon said on July 30 he had requested records from both the police and fire pension boards. The police pension board attorney responded in a reasonable amount of time, but Police Pension Chairperson Greg Warner and Police Pension Plan Administrator Carol Knapp have not yet responded, he said. "We are going over 21 days and I have not seen a single document provided."
Deleon requested a joint pension board meeting between the city council and the police pension board. Later in the meeting the date was set for the meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 4 in the City Council Chambers. Deleon said if Warner and Knapp do not produce records by Thursday, he is requesting that the city council authorize City Attorney Gerald Buhr to enter into litigation. "For the record, I have filed a complaint with the sheriff's office," Deleon added. Later in the meeting, Warner said he would provide Deleon with the records that evening after the council meeting. Deleon said Tuesday that Warner provided the emails, but they were all improperly redacted. Warner redacted out the recipients of the email. At the council meeting, Lake Worth attorney Matthew Mierzwa said the police pension board retained him to provide advice on the city manager's pending public records request. Mierzwa said the request would involve tens of thousands of documents that would take one person a month's work to redact personal information and produce. In his 25 years of experience, Mierzwa said he has never seen such a comprehensive public records request. Mierzwa said what was being demanded was more than the law requires to be produced. Buhr said he disagreed. Deleon has offered for the records requests to be fulfilled in pieces, but not a single paper has come in from some of the people, Buhr said. Mayor Sharon Schuler also disagreed with Mierzwa. Anything on Facebook or in an email is public information and city officials are responsible for what they write, she said. Avon Park Police Cmdr. Brian Robinson said he is the one who requested the attorney. "I want to make sure we don't release anything that we are not supposed to releasing," he said. To his knowledge, there is nothing that the board is hiding. The board itself doesn't decide whether the pension is closed or open, Robinson said. It's the council's decision and then it comes back to the board for a decision on the final process. "I have talked to the city manager about this, that I feel like I have been personally attacked and the board is being attacked right now," Robinson said. "The city manager brought this up about the complaint with the sheriff's department on criminal charges. "If there are criminal charges against us I would like to know; the board would like to know. I can't work under these conditions and neither can the rest of us." Schuler said that nobody is saying the whole board is out to do something illegal, but she asked, why would anyone want to close the pension plan? In a Tuesday email to the media, Deleon said he has written evidence that Knapp, with the knowledge of Warner, has actively explored consolidation, closure or termination of the city's police pension plan. The termination of the plan would be the equivalent of Social Security having to pay all Americans their Social Security benefits all within one day's time frame, he said. "It is my intent to request for Warner's immediate removal from the Police Pension Board," Deleon said. "His conduct at this point seems very questionable, unless he is a able to articulate and explain the reasons he concealed such critical matters from the other trustees." Highlands Today informed Warner about Deleon's comments. Warner responded that he doesn't know what "matters" Deleon is talking about. "As chairman of the pension board, I was copied on whatever Carol [Knapp] had sent me and I sent him [Deleon] those copies," he said. "I am not trying to hide anything from anybody. I don't have anything in the world to hide." Deleon said the pension issue is still in the discovery mode as not all public records have been produced or released. Some of the plan trustees have openly admitted to "deleting" public record emails from their private yahoo and Gmail accounts. This is also a clear and blatant violation of State Law as specifically outlined under Statute 119 for records retention, according to Deleon. Deleon said he became suspicious of these activities when Public Safety Officers Robinson and Jason Lister, both trustees in the plan, were "extensively" questioned during a deposition by attorney Robert Grizzard over an unrelated matter. Grizzard is litigating on five lawsuits against the city, Deleon noted. City Councilman Garrett Anderson also questioned the city manager about the police powers of the city's police officers, Deleon said. "These were very similar questions to Grizzard's questions of our two police officers during depositions" Deleon said. These depositions were later sent by Knapp and to the Plan Attorney Scott Christiansen to explore options of the pension plan termination. Deleon said he has evidence that Knapp has "readily communicated" regarding these matters with the city's previous police chief, Mike Rowan. "Despite all of these activities, this information appears to have been concealed from the other trustees and the public," Deleon said. mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826