Local News

Avon Park rejects settlement in ethics violation claim

AVON PARK - With both contestants in their corners, the legal sparring between Avon Park's city manager and a councilman is going into extra rounds.

The Avon Park City Council voted unanimously to reject a settlement offer by Councilman Garrett Anderson in his ethics complaint against City Manager Julian Deleon. Anderson offered to settle an ethics complaint that was brought against Deleon in January 2013.

Anderson had filed an ethics complaint against Deleon with the Florida Ethics Commission, which was investigated and dismissed in August and September 2013. Florida law allows a defendant to petition for attorneys' fees if a complaint is found to have erroneous or false information.

Deleon said Tuesday that the cost for his attorneys, Albert Gimbel and Mark Herron of Messer Caparello P.A., Tallahassee, totaled about $10,000, of which Anderson offered $5,000. He said the city council's consensus is to oppose settling legal disputes because it "encourages more of the same" and the town suffers from rumors and innuendos.

The next round in Deleon versus Anderson takes place in the city council chambers March 10 to March 13, when an administrative law judge determines if Deleon is or is not entitled to the fees based on petitioner Anderson's complaint.

"My lawyers in Tallahassee are gearing up for depositions and trial. So far, the fees are about $10,000. A full-blown hearing will probably amount to another $20,000 in fees," Deleon wrote in an email. "I have repeatedly maintained that Anderson's sworn complaint contains reckless fabrications of the facts, which were intended to damage my professional reputation."

Anderson's complaints stem from what he wrote in a March 7, 2013, letter to the Ethics Commission alleging that after he was elected Nov. 6, 2013, Deleon threatened him, stating that if Anderson made attempts to interfere in any of his "personal business, that he would cause serious ramifications for my personal business, Anderson Arms."

Anderson Arms is an Avon Park-based ammunition manufacturer Anderson opened in 2008.

Following the city council meeting, Anderson, who has served on city council since Nov. 6, 2013, said the city had the chance to recoup half of the fees, which would have been the most beneficial action to take. He said now that it's again going before a judge, the city "stands to lose a lot more money." He said the only options now are to pay the full amount or go to trial.

"To take the offer would have been the smartest for the city. One half should have been taken," he said.

Anderson's mother, Sherri Anderson, said Tuesday that Deleon's attorneys made the first offer to settle for $8,200 and Anderson's attorney, Bernard Dempsey of Orlando, countered with a $4,100 offer. That's when Deleon's team said there would not be a settlement unless it went to the city council.

In his email, Deleon said if the case continues forward, other allegations of unethical dealings involving Anderson, specifically, what he said was "a failed insurance claim which was filed; and unpermitted construction work in the Anderson Arms factory."

Anderson said Tuesday that the insurance issue was unsubstantiated and drawings for the construction work were taken to the city but they were never signed. He said he didn't understand what those issues have to do with the ethics issue at hand and it amounted to "blackmail" by Deleon.

"That's the definition of blackmail, the fact that he's wanting to put something in the paper trying to blackmail me speaks volumes of his character," he said.

Although the case has lingered in a political haze in the council chambers since early 2013, councilman Parke Sutherland said it hasn't been a personal distraction. In September 2013, he said he talked to City Attorney Gerald Buhr about the issue and Buhr said the city has a duty to pay all or part of Deleon's attorney's fees.

"I want the city to be consistent, not have to answer baseless allegations," he said.

At the council meeting. Sutherland made a motion to reject the settlement, it was seconded by Councilwoman Brenda Giles and passed 4-0 with Anderson abstaining.

Deleon said he would only accept a full payment for fee recoupment or "we are bound for court."


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