September 3, 2017
Governor Rick Scott
Plaza Level 05, The Capitol
400 S Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Dear Governor Scott:
We are in need of a government intervention in the Town of White Springs. White Springs Florida is located in Hamilton County and the racial makeup of the town is approximately 36.75% White, 62.15% African American, 0.37% Native American, and 0.73% from two or more races.
In 1995 our Town was nearly bankrupt and we owed the Federal Government approximately $100,000 in taxes. It was at that time that Jim Smith, a friend of ours, worked with the staff of Governor Lawton Chiles to restructure the town, including the establishment of a new Charter. New council members were appointed as well as staff…
In 1995, due to the amount owed the government the Town officials required additional funds and elected to issue Ordinance 95-3, October 10, 1995. It imposed a ten (10) percent tax on the purchase of electricity, gas, water, sewer and telephone service for the express purpose of paying the aforementioned loan which was taken through First Federal Savings Bank of Florida. Jim Smith and Mayor Cecil Westbrook signed the ordinance as well as co-signing the loan. It was stated that after the loan was paid the tax on such utility services would not exceed the sum of $5.00 per month on each service of utility purchased.
On October 1999, Ordinance 99-16 was adopted stipulating that once the loan is paid, the maximum would increase from $5.00 to $7.50; and subsequently because the Town could not handle their finances in 2000, the maximum that would be required after the loan was paid was changed to a flat ten percent (10%) which is what has been charged the Citizens of White Springs since September 19, 2000. Totally we estimate throughout the years the Town has collected some $1.4 million but we never have any reserves and do not know exactly where the money goes. There are not line items in the receivables of our budgets or financials.
We are an impoverished county, with our only industry being PCS which in time will be closed, Jim Smith noticed that he was paying over $50.00 on his Duke Electric Bill; We were paying $35.00. There has never been a NEW purpose nor was there a sunset clause, nor a hearing to continue this ten percent tax on all utilities. In ordering copies of checks to the general fund from January through July 31st, 2017, Duke Energy alone had collected some $40,000 from the Citizens which was sent to the Town of White Springs. Yet again, the Town has never again reviewed this ordinance and many of us pay our bills on line or don’t notice the “local tax” charged. Because of complaints now made, the current Council refuses to have a Budget Workshop because they do not wish to hear citizens’ complaints. It would not matter because three of the councilors vote as one..
On October 15, 2015, again supposedly to secure money for a down payment on a loan/grant through the state to fix the Sewer and Water lines in White Springs, the Council elected to increase their water rates to $17.00 per 2,000 gallons plus $2.00 per thousand of metered water for Residential Users and Churches.. Laundromats are charged $55.12 for the first 2000 gallons and $2.50 per gallon; commercial users $31.20 per month plus $2.50 per thousand; Schools $60.08 per month plus $2.50 per thousand gallons
It was not the water rate that hurt the Citizens of White Springs but the Sewer Rate which for Residential Users and Churches, $17.00 for the first 0-1,000 gallons plus $8.41 per 1000 gallons thereafter of metered water for Residential Users and Churches; Laundromats, ,Commercial Users and Schools likewise are charged $17.00 for the first 0-1,000 gallons plus $8.41 per 1000 gallons thereafter. This is a 250% over and above what other Towns charge.
Because of the higher sewer rates, the Citizens incurred bills of $70-110 or more for residential costs of combined sewer and water. The Town has charged some $500 to some citizens, not including Commercial and Laundromat owners. As you may have realized, this jeopardizes those with larger families, especially those who are aged or on welfare because if they cannot pay by the 15th of every month, their water is shut off and subsequently, it causes a health hazard.
It may be also mentioned that the Town charges a $300 deposit but does not treat that money as a deposit to ever be returned to the citizens. In fact if they deduct any money from the initial deposit they can request another $300 deposit.
If one does not pay their bill by the 15th of the month, water service is discontinued and a late fee of $15.00 shall be imposed per month.. The ordinance stipulates the water and sewer bill is due the 1st day of each month even though the bills are not received in the mail by the first. In order to reconnect, the charge is $30.00 per month. Many people are having a financial crisis and we do not know where the money is going.
We have received various grants throughout the years and one year $40,000 was missing which was covered by moving money of over $50,000 from the sewer and water account to the General Ledger account. With the 10% utility tax there should have been sufficient money as well as with property taxes to sufficiently cover general expenses had not the Council spent money stupidly and many times, this has happened outside of the “Sunshine”.
Yet there is further corruption. For instance our current Mayor, John Rhett Bullard, esquire, did not pay the required sewer/water deposit when he purchased his home in November of 2016. He purchased the property from the Methodist Church which owned the property years back when the deposit was $5.00. He made the excuse that the deposit was transferred but per the ordinance there may be only one transfer and that is transferring from one property in White Springs to another property in White Springs by the same owner. This was not the case because Bullard did not own the home.
There is also evidence that some people were given special treatment if they could not afford their sewer and water bills whereas others were not. A former staff member (who was fired after making a complaint against the Town and Town Manager months prior) had not shut her water off even though she paid two late fees. What transpired thereafter was that the Mayor and Town Manager elected for our Town attorney to secure an outside employment attorney to exonerate the complaints of the employee. Without full council approval, unknowst to the employment lawyer, our Town paid in excess of $15,000 to the outside attorney and we anticipate another $5,000 from our Town attorney. The Chief of police admitted to Rivers that she lied in her deposition about how bad the circumstances were because she needed her job. The Chief of police has had a DUI, an Assault and one perjury charge prior. She was also paid in excess of the 30 days stipulated in the charter, for personal injuries which were incurred by her driving a motorcycle.
It should be explained that two of the five councilors, Tonja Brown and Willie Jefferson, vote with Mayor Bullard no matter what the matter may be. Since Dr. Helen B. Miller and Walter McKenzie prefer to discuss items on the agenda rather than vote recklessly, they are not considered team players so the three along with the Town Manager orchestrated a plan to oust Dr. Miller from her council seat. The problem is that there was only a complaint by the Town Manager. The Town Manager then placed the complaint in the local paper the Jasper News, whereby tarnishing Dr. Miller’s reputation and stipulating her guilt before she had opportunity of proving her innocence. Dr. Miller spent $800 for a Beautiful Dreamer Banquet, a banquet of which has been handled yearly during Black History month honoring our local African Americans. .In years prior the council approved all expenditures made by Helen Miller.
Dr. Miller secured an attorney for the hearing. Against our Town Attorney’s advice, our Mayor has suggested the Council spend up to $7,500 for an attorney to represent Stacy Tebo, our Town Manager. No Town has ever paid the fees of a Staff Member making accusations against a current councilor. Dr. Miller and Walter McKency objected but the motion passed because three councilors vote as one.
It may also be stated that our Town Manager Stacy Tebo was fired by the City of DeBary for various infranctions; one of which was utilizing e-mails outside of the government e-mail provided. That has again happened in White Springs where she uses a g-mail account and sends notices to staff under a windstream.net account. Our Town, however, does not have any policies.
Mayor Bullard allowed our Town Manager to work a four day week in lieu of a five day plus work week without council approval costing citizens $11,000 for the first year. This was in breach of her contract. The Mayor further was caught in a lie that our Town Manager had doctor’s appointments every Monday for a year, when in actuality her appointments were with a chiropractor on Saturdays.
A complaint by Joe Griffin to the Florida Ethics Committee stated John Rhett Bullard may have violated Section 112.313(6) but the Rudd Amendment did not allow the ethics committee to proceed because the complaint concerned internal managerial employment issues of the Town better suited to be addressed by the Town Council or forums other than the Commission on Ethics. A complaint was then sent to the Florida Bar who stated it should be submitted to the Ethics Commission. Since two councilors will vote to dismiss any internal managerial employment issues in Mayor Bullard’s favor, nothing would come of the complaint with the two remaining councilors.
The Mayor and his two councilors did not consider programs for the Children of White Springs being a priority. Former Mayor and Councilor, Dr. Miller and the former superintendent of schools Tom Moffses, secured a Department of Juvenile Justice Invest in Children funding which along with our Town Manager, the action was delayed and not voted upon so we lost our funding.
Because some of our water pipes may contain asbestos per a former councilman, there needs to be sewer and water piping repairs. The Town was attempting to secure a $3,000,000 grant loan but the Town required $250,000 from the HCDA since they were unable to save money from the Sewer and Water account. At the meeting Joe Griffin provided information on how prior money was squandered on projects that did not benefit all the citizens. (i.e. a concrete park and a side walk to nowhere which was considered a “business incubator”. Griffin stated that the HCDA should provide the $250,000 with a condition that the Town should reduce the sewer rate. One Board Member said White Springs did not have skin in the game. Yet Rhett Bullard is also the attorney for the HCDA and his aunt has provided money previously. The HCDA only provided $25,000 the following year. Our Sewer rate never was reduced, and with the Council using the high sewer rates in the general fund, the sewer and water repairs will not be done.
The Carver School is listed as a Historic Site in the State of Florida. Yet, even though the asbestos has been removed and the school could be renovated, Mayor Bullard, our Town Manager and Tonja Brown had set the Carver School up for demolition in an application to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity ( DEO) for a FFY 2016 Small Cities Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) of $600,000 in the neighborhood revitalization category. None of the Published Notices stated that in order to build the Community Center, the Carver School would have to be demolished. We are thankful, Governor Scott, that you vetoed this request.
Mayor Bullard and Councilor Brown made certain the Citizens were not asked what their needs may be and the Citizen’s Advisory Task Force (CATF) meeting of 12/19/2016 as well as the first public hearing were advertised in the Gainesville Sun so there would be no public participation. The CATF nor the notice of Public Hearing stated a Community Center would be built if we received the Grant award. The Second public hearing was advertised in the Lake City Reporter and indicated the specifications of a community center but DID NOT STATE THE CARVER SCHOOL WOULD HAVE TO BE DEMOLISHED. It was intentional to not include the notices in the Jasper News, our local paper, on the part of Rhett Bullard, Tonja Brown and Willie Jefferson to ascertain a community center would be built on the site of the Carver School. This proves the Citizens have no voice, only the officials.
Councilor Tonja Brown has never made a decision on her own but instead works in conjunction with Rhett Bullard and Willie Jefferson outside of the Sunshine Laws of the State of Florida (Not at meetings). Ms. Brown treats other Citizens poorly and will even fight for chairs and tables, treating the individual who rented the Community Center poorly. The African Americans for the most part did not wish Tonja Brown re-elected,; however, some of the citizens have seen where the votes have been changed. Our finance manager has taken the absentee voting box home before returning it to the voting site as one example.
Mayor Bullard feels no one has a constitutional right to state their grievances and follows only the laws which he feels are beneficial to him. Even though the Town Charter and the Town Attorney have stipulated Roberts’ Rules of Order must be followed, Rhett chooses to ignore the Law. When told that Complaints which pertain to the Law must be read in accord with Roberts’ Rules of Order, Rhett Bullard simply stated “You want us to admit we are not following the Law?”. That states an abundance about Rhett Bullard honesty and ethics. “Lawyers holding public office assume legal responsibilities going beyond those of other citizens. A lawyer’s abuse of public office can suggest an inability to fulfill the professional role of attorney.” This is in accordance with the Florida Bar.
Since my husband Joe Griffin has moved to White Springs in April of 1999, specific ordinances were made to apply only to him. He has made as many as 54 Chapter 119 follow-up requests to secure information at times because the Town refused his requests. The Town also has their own rules and stipulate it may take up to 30 days to answer a Chapter 119 request. At one time, the Town attorney, City Clerk and Mayor stipulated that the Town of White Springs did not have to follow Sunshine Laws. That statement seems to have remained by the actions of staff.. When Joe realized Ordinances and Condemnations were not followed for friends of the officials and the laws and the constitution had not been followed he had made 19 suits but unfortunately the Town Attorney made a motion to dismiss in each case and the Judge never reviewed the charges of law. Since Griffin did not know how to fight a motion to dismiss, these suits cost him over $40,000 to the Town in attorney fees and costs.
Not only did the Town take advantage of him but he was fired from his job because Town Manager Townsend advised his trucking firm that Joe was arrested him for disorderly conduct for a set-up by the police; Later for requesting 119s he was arrested. As a result, when Joe found another job, he incurred a workers’ compensation claim wherein he shattered his pelvis and was in the hospital for 11.5 months. Prior to that they had Baker acted him three times because he was depressed at what the Town was doing. The Town Attorney and Town Manager Townsend (related to Mayor Bullard) came to our home upon Joe’s return from the hospital to remove all his property without appropriate notice. The Town had contracted with a collection agency but being in the hospital for 11.5 months, not expecting to live first and then to even walk, Joe could not handle everything expediently. The Town wished to take his wheel chairs and our dog, but the Sheriff’s office assisted Joe, giving him opportunity to secure the cash required of some $11,000 plus enough to return his property.
Joe has three masters degrees, one bachelor’s degree, one associates degree, a CLU and a financial adviser certificate.. He served the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant/pilot and the Army as Captain for a total of 22 years; he worked as a stockbroker, and as an insurance broker, received an award as the Top salesperson for John Hancock in the U.S. He never had any arrests or poor treatment until he moved to White Springs. I too could not believe what was happening to us because I have worked as a Multi-national insurance agent in MN, NV and in FL, but I could not believe how I was treated in White Springs.
It does not end there. After Joe and I were married, the Town including the Attorney tried to ruin our reputation so that we could not secure a re-finance on our home. It was then that we found the Town still had liens on our property for the aforementioned court cases which were paid in full by Joe Griffin. In fact the collection agency said they had not been paid under their collection contract and we initially had to send money to the collection agency for almost $11,000 for which the Town was already paid. After arguing the situation, the Town had to pay $4,800 to the collection agency by credit card because there wasn’t enough money in the account, and we were returned the money which we were paid.
When I moved here in 2011 just prior to marrying Joe, a club called the Camel Club became prevalent in our lives. They anonymously wrote e-mails to us daily criticizing the way Joe and I looked as well as call us terrible names and picking on us for wanting the Town to follow the law. They considered it a crime, calling Joe Griffin a domestic terrorist, because we followed the law and wished the Town to follow the law. Part of the problem was that we had proof that Robert Townsend had been arrested in 1990 but not charged for sex with juveniles. Although he was not convicted for sex offenses against those serving time with the DOC, it was only because States Attorney Siegmeister held the paperwork long enough so the statute of limitations expired. We were then threatened with placing Joe Griffin in Jail as well as me because of an application I made for Joe to apply as Town Manager. The Bullards are powerful people in White Springs and the police at the time would do anything to protect them.
Our Charter stipulates that Roberts’ Rules of Order shall be utilized for our monthly meetings; yet, Mayor Bullard has stated we are a small Town and do not have to use it. Furthermore, he has stated he will not accept citizens’ complaints from us or others which have to do with following the law or complaints against staff. Therefore, no citizens may complain about what is being taxed or charged and may not complain if public records’ laws are not adhered to, even though our Town Attorney has stated they must be followed..
It became worse because the Town was upset with our blog which was the only way we could fight back untrue accusations about our reputation. They placed charges against us and advertised in the newspaper that we were criminals because of our blog. We took a civil rights suit against the Town but the judge considered immunity for the officials who were offenders, due to the officials perjuring themselves about hearsay scenarios that never took place nor was there evidence.. We later found out that Mary Bullard was one of the Camel Club members as well as the officials and their anger was targeted at our providing the truth about Townsend.
Now it is rumored, but Certain individuals have the specifics, that our Chief of Police secured a computer which was stolen from Mayor Bullard, which showed lewd sexual acts with a juvenile. Because our Chief of Police needs her job, she gave the computer back to Bullard without providing such evidence to FDLE. . We initially had hoped that FDLE would have investigated our Chief of Police who got rid of the evidence.
We also find that the drug problems in White Springs will remain, because the police had a stand down order due to some officials and their friends apparently entertaining cocaine. The children themselves are on Molly and the town is deteriorating. We lost our only honest police officer Cecil Brownfield to the Sheriff’s office in Mayo and he tried to help the juveniles by taking them to the hospital. As a result of the drug problem here, we find that more thefts have occurred. Councilor Willie Jefferson’s son CJ has been stealing in Hamilton, Suwannee and Columbia County. Because Jefferson is a Sheriff, he has utilized a yellow bond, has been able to talk Judges into letting his son go and now his son is under house arrest, protected by his probation officer and a Lake City firm contends it was he who used counterfeit money to make a purchase which was ultimately laundered by return of the item to another store. Only those who are not special people are arrested and jailed in White Springs.
We need help with the corruption and do not know where to turn. I know that you have so many other items on your docket Governor Scott. You have virtually kept all of your promises to the Citizens of Florida and have helped our President with good advice. We are so happy that you are our governor.
If there was some way this town’s financials could be investigated it would be great. We cannot keep affording law suits against the Town when others are fearful of doing so. Hopefully Dr. Miller’s hearing will bring forth much of this information but we ultimately know she will lose because of the three in one vote. Subsequently she intends to take her case to circuit court. She has worked with the Florida League of Cities on four different committees and even the League is dumbfounded as to what is transpiring in White Springs..
I know that the prior CPA covered many things up and our Finance director held a bill from Hamilton County for fixing Jewett Street during the flooding of some $90,000. The Town was paid by FEMA and another source, but spent most of the money and had to borrow $55,000 from the sewer and water account to pay Hamilton County. If Joe Griffin had not inquired about the two year old bill to Hamilton county, White Springs would have gotten away without paying it for a number of years to come. This has to stop. The Town becomes more corrupt every day. The Citizens are tired of being taxed without representation.
Any assistance you may be able to give us, the Citizens of White Springs, will be greatly appreciated.
Karin A. Fleischhaker-Griffin, CPCU
Cc: Rep. Elizabeth Porter, 678 SE Baya Drive, Lake City, FL 32025