Local News

Council supports report clearing

AVON PARK - A short resolution, a long pointed discussion and a new allegation from Councilman Garrett Anderson -- the Avon Park City Council meeting Monday featured all this, plus comments from a lawyer, a private investigator and a former mayor. By a 4-1 vote, the city council approved a resolution accepting a report that stated that Councilman Garrett Anderson's allegations against City Manager Julian Deleon were unfounded. Anderson cast the sole dissenting vote. The city had hired a private investigator, Al Smith, to look into Anderson's allegations. Those allegation were presented in a May 7 letter to the state Ethics Commission where Anderson accused Deleon of threatening him, stating that if he made an attempt to interfere in any of Deleon's personal business, "that he would cause serious ramifications for my personal business, Anderson Arms."
Mayor Sharon Schuler said she requested the resolution, which was prepared by City Attorney Gerald Buhr. The resolution stated the city council reviewed Smith's investigative report and accepted its findings. Deleon has been "fully exonerated" of the charges Anderson has leveled against him, the resolution reads, and the council will take no more shall action on the matter. But, there was plenty of discussion on the matter at the council meeting. Smith offered a summary of his investigation and said Anderson's allegations were unsubstantiated. Smith said he received two emails from Garrett's attorney, Bernard Dempsey. Dempsey is "twisting facts to try to get out of it," Smith said. "Dempsey either didn't read his report or did not understand it." In a June 21 email to Smith, Dempsey said he advised Anderson not to participate in Smith's investigation. According to Dempsey, Anderson will cooperate with the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, "since they are the only appropriate agencies to consider the substance of the allegations that have been made." Dempsey stated that Smith's investigation into Anderson's allegations was "far from a professional piece of objective investigation." The Florida Commission on Ethics, with years of experienced investigators, will "approach such allegations free of any bias" and will conclude its investigation without rushing to judgement, Dempsey said in the email. At Monday's council meeting, citizen Jim Barnard said Smith's report was quite clear, but he did not understand why, after a couple of months on the council, Anderson filed an ethics violation against Deleon. "I would like to urge you tonight, Mr. Anderson, to please speak to us at this public forum. I do think you owe it to the citizens and voters of this city to hear your side of the story on why you decided to file an investigation and where you got your facts from," Barnard said to Anderson. Anderson did not comment. Deleon's attorney, Mark Heron, said his practice focuses on ethics and elections. He is a former chairman of the Commission on Ethics. "I am impressed that the report determined that all the material allegations in the complaint filed against the city manager were not based in fact," he said. Heron said he forwarded Smith's report to the Ethics Commission, which is moving with "great dispatch" in this matter. "I have knowledge that and investigator has been assigned to this case," he said. "I have knowledge that and investigator has been here and interviewed witnesses." The complaint will probably come before the commission within the next two months. Schuler said Anderson's allegations against Deleon were not substantiated and Deleon's allegations against Anderson were not substantiated, either. "There is a multitude of citizens who are supportive of what the city is doing," she said. Along with other positives for the city, she noted that Avon Park will be debt free soon and that previous mayors and city councils have pushed for the same things. Schuler said she doesn't understand why, "a few are so blinded by the hate of city management." Former Mayor Tom Macklin said, "It's not always about hate, it can be about concerns." Macklin said he was concerned about an allegation made by Deleon at a previous council meeting. Macklin said Deleon stated he had heard that city employees were taking city vehicles out of state on vacation when Macklin was mayor. "The first time I heard that allegation was when you did," Macklin told the city council. It concerns him that people are allowed to make such allegations using his name and in effect referring to a number of council members, Macklin said. Anderson said he did some research into what was said at the May 28 council meeting. "I actually found a couple of lies that were told," he said. Schuler told Anderson to provide the city attorney with his information. That is something that needs to be researched before it is put out in public, she added. "I am not calling for an investigation," Anderson said. "I did the investigation myself; it is pretty simple." Buhr said since Anderson's concerns are written down they are public record. Anderson said he would like to make his own copy. After the meeting, City Clerk Cheryl Tietjen spoke to Anderson and offered to make copies of his paperwork at City Hall, but he declined. Deleon said, "With all this little piddly stuff about whether the [city] vehicles are marked, detectives following my vehicle around. We are not doing the business of the city." Deleon said he would resign as city manager if the Ethics Commission validates any of Anderson's claims. He called for Anderson to "do the honorable thing" and do the same - vacate his position if he filed false allegations with the Commission. "Clearly you and I are not doing the business of the City of Avon Park here," Deleon said. Anderson said he didn't agree that they were not doing the business of the city. "It's the resident's job to make sure that you do your job," he said to Deleon. "If they see something and they bring it to us it is our job to go ahead and look into that. "I'm elected by the people so anytime someone comes to me and asks me to look into something; I'm going to; It's that simple," Anderson said. Deleon responded, "You may have been elected by the people, but you represent a handful of people." Anderson replied, "no." Deleon and Anderson and others all spoke at once and then Schuler called a stop to the squabbling. "If there is nothing else for the good of the city, then I will entertain a motion to dismiss," she said. The meeting adjourned. Deleon told Highlands Today on Tuesday, Anderson serves, "a select group of 20 people who are detracting from the city ... and are bitter toward the current progress." mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826