SLIPPERY SLOPE – SUWANNEE DEMOCRAT EDITORIAL
Editorial: Council starts down slippery slope
As both Mark Herron and Darren Elkind, the two opposing lawyers in the Oct. 25 public hearing regarding Helen Miller’s seat on the White Springs Town Council, agreed: the council took upon itself a solemn responsibility with the hearing.
It was the council that charged Miller with malfeasance, misfeasance or non-feasance while in office at its June meeting when it moved to declare her seat forfeited.
It was that same council that then heard the evidence at last week’s public hearing and issued the verdict on whether Miller would indeed have to give up her seat.
But in doing so, the council started down a slippery slope.
One of the four charges heard at the quasi-judicial hearing against Miller involved her asking if staff could move chairs from one building to another to host a dinner for the Suwannee River League of Cities, which Miller serves as the organization’s president.
Herron, Miller’s lawyer, called the charge “probably one of the most trivial charges in terms of trying to deprive the people of their representative on this board that is imaginable.”
We agree that it’s hard to imagine how making a request about moving tables and chairs can lead to someone losing their elected office. Watergate, this is not.
In fact, Elkind even admitted that the charge seemed petty, although he quickly touted the importance of not interfering with employees’ jobs and responsibilities.
Petty and trivial as it may be, the council — by virtue of a 3-1 vote from Mayor Rhett Bullard, Vice-Mayor Tonja Brown and Willie Jefferson with only Walter McKenzie voting against — decided it still constituted a willful violation of the town’s charter. They also voted her in violation on the other three allegations of questionable employee pay requests and overstepping through unilateral direction to city staff.
And in doing so, the council opened itself up to the potential for more seat forfeiture hearings in the future. McKenzie earlier in the hearing admitted to having made requests of Police Chief Tracy Rodriquenz. “I’ve asked Chief Rodriquenz to do things, I’ve asked her if she would mind taking care of the bicycles for the Suwannee Bike (Association) that were donated to the kids for the Christmas program,” McKenzie said, later adding that he also contacted the supervisor of utilities about a water main break that flooded his yard, which could be interpreted as a no-no: “According to the way we’re doing business here tonight, I could be charged with a violation of the charter. And I will openly stand up and say, ‘Yes I did that.’”
That admission seemed to have jogged Rodriquenz’s memory, who had just said that Miller was the lone council member who asked for her help.“Everybody asks me to do things,” she said. “He’s absolutely right in that he’s come to me about the bicycles and I believe Miss Tonja has come to me about hot dogs.“It’s whatever the community needs.”
Except requesting help to fulfill the community’s needs apparently is a willful violation of an express prohibition of the charter.At least, that is what the council declared last week
End of Article
My recollection of this since I attended the hearing is:
Dr. Miller’s Attorney, Mark Herron, initially requested a continuance due to the fact that the charges changed from those sited in the newspaper against Dr. Miller. Mr. Herron said he was not providedsufficient time to secure the appropriate witnesses since the new charges were not received until October 19, 2017. Mr. Herron provided this in writing as well as vocally in the meeting. He advised that he only had two hours to go over the material with Dr. Miller.
Attorney Elkind, the Staff attorney, formerly known as Stacy Tebo’s attorney, said he was against the continuance because all e-mails and paperwork were forwarded to Attorney Herron well prior to the new charges. He further stated that Dr. Miller did not have the right to ask for a continuance or see the complaints against her.
Rhett Bullard went into rapid antics saying that a continuance would not be acceptable in any way, while condemning Dr. Miller. Councilman Jefferson said we have waited for months and there should have been enough time to prepare.
Later in the hearing it was brought forward that not all the e-mails were forwarded to Attorney Herron An E-mail whereby Stacy Tebo appointed Helen Miller as the TOWS HOPE administrator was not included but fortunately Helen Miller retrieved copies establishing Stacy Tebo’s request.
As the HOPE administrator through the Hamilton County School Board, Dr. Miller was approved by TOWS (Town of White Springs) and did nothing wrong. The conditions were set up by the benefactor for the benefit of White Spring youth. If the money had not been received immediately from Hamilton County, any one of the staff could have called the County. The money was available, but this was the first year the benefactor did not wish to give TOWS the funds. Or, one of the Staff could have contacted Dr. Miller to contact the county. Instead Ms. Tomlinson refused to issue a check and blamed Helen Miller for the money not being in the White Springs Account. Yet by Contract, the Town had the obligation of paying the employee whether or not there was money. As such Hamilton County did release the funds and the employee was paid within two days.
Nevertheless Dr. Miller was blamed by Rhett Bullard for the lack of funds. Yet the Town Manager is to provide the council monthly financial reports but has not done so in her tenure. And furthermore it was established at the hearing that none in the Town, including Rhett Bullard who signs the TOWS contracts, have ever read the details and stipulations of said contract.
Of course when Pam Tomlinson was initially told that Hamilton County was to handle payroll before anyone read the contract, she laughed and said she was happy that she did not have to do the payroll because it was less work for her.
When Police ChiefTracy Rodriquenz was asked if she would assist any council member who asked for her assistance, she said of course, she would assist anyone. However, either she had a memory lapse or did not intend to be truthfully initially, because she stated only Helen Miller had requested anything from her. That led to Walter McKenzie stipulating he had requested something from her relating to the Bike Club and then Tonja Brown admitted something about hot dogs. It was stated that if a council person may not ask for assistance from the Staff or from the Town Manager, then everyoneshould be ousted from the Council. Yet that would only apply to the remaining councilor who does not agree with the power of three, Walter McKenzie.
When Attorney Herron elected to bring forth information from DeBary whereby Ms. Tebo did not provide all the e-mails requested by her Town Manager or she sanitized them. She also attempted to have her Manager terminated by discussions with the council. Rhett Bullard our Mayor and lawyer, who seems to not understand the law, objected to this line of conversation. As if he knows everything and had the right to comment on Mark Herron’s defense, Rhett Bullard said that was unnecessary but a “ good legal ploy”. Yet Attorney Herron was finally allowed to show similarities of what happened in DeBary is now happening in White Springs to councilwoman and former Mayor Helen Miller. Of course Mark Herron ignored the childish comment made by Rhett Bullard which was ridiculous in the least..
Mark Herron, Dr. Miller’s attorney included definitions as shown below relating to 119 Fla 119, Supreme Court of Florida STATE ex rel. v. COLEMAN May 26, 1934 relating to Public Public Employment Conduct or Misconduct in General “Malfeasance” as did Town Attorney Frederick Koberlein. Nevertheless, Rhett Bullard and the remaining power of three voted that Helen B. Miller violated the Charter and charged her with four counts of Malfeasance, without understanding the meaning.
The cost for Attorney Elkinds services to and from the hearing and defending Stacy Tebo and staff at the hearing was $8738.50