In Re: Tonja Brown

ALLEGATION ONE

Respondent is alleged to have violated Section 112.313 (6) Florida Statutes, by directing a White Springs’ Code Enforcement Officer to write a letter to the owner of the Mobile Home Park demanding alteration to the Park’s Driveway.

ANALYSIS

Respondent has been a member of the Town of White Springs (Town) Council for ten years and served as the Vice Mayor during the time pertinent to this matter. (ROI 5).  It is alleged that Respondent misused her official position by demanding and/or directing the Town’s Code Enforcement Officer to write a letter to the owner of a mobile home park, demanding alterations to the park’s privately-owned driveway and, subsequently, preventing the Town Council from considering a citizen’s complaint filed against her regarding her involvement with the Town’s Code Enforcement Officer.  (ROI 1,3).

Pine Manor Mobile Home Park (Park) is privately owned and subject to  the Town’s Zoning Code and ordinances.  (ROI 1,3).  There had been complaints about the condition of the driveway into the park (ROI 14).  The driveway is admittedly “rough” but not degraded to the point where Town ordinances or state laws were violated.  (ROI 10).  The bumps and potholes in the road do not prevent emergency response vehicles from access to the homes (ROI 10, 14).

Respondent, who does not live in the Park, has family members and friends who live there and she had received complaints about the condition of the Park’s driveway. (ROI 7).  Respondent was aware that the Town’s Code Enforcement Officer, John Davis, was renting a home in the Park.  (ROI 8, 10).  During a chance encounter at a local Dollar General Store, Respondent advised Officer Davis that she was forwarding the residents’ complaints about the condition of the driveway to Town Manager Stacy Tebo and “suggested that he discuss the matter” with Town Manager Tebo because she was his direct supervisor.  (ROI 3,7,8).  Dince Officer Davis resides in the park, she wanted him to know that the residents might confront him, if they discover that he is the Town’s Code Enforcement Officer.  (ROI 8)  Respondent denied pressuring or directing Officer Davis or Town Manager Tebo to cite the Park owner, write a letter to the Park owner, or take any other action in the matter.  (ROI 7,8).

Officer Davis “had a vague recollection of speaking with the Respondent on one occasion about the Park’s driveway.  He was unsure of when or where the conversation took place…”  (ROI 11).  In addition, “he paid very little attention to the Respondent during the conversation and could not recall whether she directed him to cite or take some other type of enforcement action against the Park owner.  However, he was aware that a relative of the Respondent lived in the Park, and consequently, he felt that the Respondent’s approaching him about the matter was an attempt to pressure him into taking enforcement action against the Park’s owner.”  (ROI 11).

Officer Davis also felt pressure from Town Manager Tebo who sent him an e-mail and contacted him of several occasions advising him to talk to, or make contact with, the owner of the Park. (ROI 12).  Officer Davis informed her each time that the Park owner was not in violation and that the situation was uncomfortable for him because he lived in the Park.  (ROI 12).  When he suggested that Town Manager Tebo write the letter herself, she insisted that he do it (ROI 12).  He did not continue to challenge her directive nor did he write the letter.  (ROI 12).

Afterwards, Officer Davis stated that Town Manager Tebo changed things by requiring him to provide a code enforcement report at the Town meetings (ROI 12).  Instead of presenting his first report at the June 12, 2018 Town Council meeting, Officer Davis resigned stating, in part, that City Manager Tebo and Respondent demanded on several occasions that he write the letter to the owner of the Park demanding that the privately-owned driveway be fixed, which he believed would affect his living situation.  (ROI 6,15) Complaint pp. 3-4).  He believed this was their unreasonable and unethical attempt to provoke the owner into fixing the driveway for the personal gain of Respondent’s family members and friends.  (ROI 6,15, Complaint pp 3-4).

Town Manager Tebo denied pressuring Officer Davis to act in the matter and recollected that she possibly offered to write the letter herself and requested that he provide the name and contact information for the Park’s manager or owner” and then “I’ll just yell at them”, she said (ROI 14).  A letter was never written.  (ROI 12, 14).

Town Manager Tebo also denied that she and/or Respondent punished Officer Davis for not taking enforcement action by requiring him to present routine code enforcement reports at the Town Council meetings.  (ROI 124)  She recalled that Councilmember Walter McKenzie had wanted the code enforcement reports, as such reports were routine from the police department, the fire department, and the Town Manager.  (ROI 15)  Councilmember McKenzie could not specifically recall making such request but acknowledged that he possibly commented at a meeting that it might be helpful to have code enforcement reports. (ROI 16).

The Town Charter prohibits a Councilmember from “interfering with the conduct of any department head, officer, or an employee in discharge of his or her duties”.  Town of White Springs Charter, Section 3.02 (1); (Exhibit C-4).  The only evidence of a potential violation is from the Respondent herself because only she recalls the chance meeting with Officer Davis.  Her statement to him does not indicate interference with the discharge of Officer Davis’s duties in violation of the Charter.  Officer Davis barely recalled the chance meeting or conversation with Respondent and whether she directed him to take any official action regarding the Park’s driveway, his feelings that “Respondent’s approaching him about the matter was an attempt to pressure him” without more, is insufficient upon which to base a violation (ROI 11).

Therefore, based on the evidence before the Commission, I recommend that the Commission find no probable cause to believe that Respondent violated Section 112.313(6), Florida Statutes.

ALLEGATION TWO

Respondent is alleged to have violated Section 112.313(6) Florida Statutes, by  acting to prevent the White Springs Town Council from considering a citizen complaint filed against her in part, by discussing the complaint in an outside-the-Sunshine meeting.

Officer resigned as the Town’s Code Enforcement Officer.  (ROI 17).  Afterwards Complainant filed a “citizen complaint” against Respondent alleging that she directed Officer Davis to cite the Park’s owner concerning the Park’s driveway in violation of the Town Charter (ROI 17).  The complaint was not placed on a Town Council agenda for discussion and resolution by Town Manager Tebo, an action allegedly supported by Respondent according to Complainant (ROI 17) Complainant alleges his complaint was handled differently from a complaint filed against another Councilmember, Helen Miller, and subsequently, placed on the agenda some three months earlier.  (ROI 17, 18, Exhibit B).  The complaint against Miller prompted a “Forfeiture Hearing” that resulted in the Councilmember’s removal from office.  (ROI 19).

The Town’s “Agenda Application” form authorizes the Town Manager to prepare the Council meeting agendas.  (ROI 24, Exhibit C).  A complainant is advised that “Local Rules of Procedure to appear before the Town Council of the Town of White Springs requires all citizens or employees request for an agenda item to be in writing, signed by petitioner and presented to the Town Manager for consideration before being placed on the agenda”  (ROI 24, Exhibit C-1)

There are no other written policies or procedures regarding preparation of Council meeting agendas.  (ROI 23).  Town Manager Tebo is responsible for preparing the agenda for each Council meeting and she has the sole authority to determine which items will be placed on the agenda.  (ROI 23).  Upon receipt of a complaint, it was Town Manager Tebo’s practice to place a copy in each Councilmembers’ mailbox, as well as scan and e-mail a copy to each member.  (ROI 23).  She then places the item on the agenda, if a Councilmember instructs her to do so, otherwise she determines whether the complaint warrants the Council’s consideration.  (ROI 23).  After ample opportunity to request the citizen complaint tobe placed on the agenda, no Councimember decided to make such a request. (ROI 25, 27).

Complainant notified each Councilmember of the complaint he filed against Respondent and “sent emails twice to Council Members and four times to Tebo stating his desire to handle this complaint (against the Respondent) exactly like Mrs. Miller’s action.”  (ROI 26).  According to Town Manager Tebo, the complaint against former councilmember Miller was “vastly different” from the single allegation filed against Respondent (ROI 22) Town Manager Tebo had firsthand knowledge that Miller violated the Town’s Charter on multiple occasions and some of the allegations were  based on information provided by the Town’s auditor . (ROI 19, 22, Exhibit B) .  Here, Town Manager Tebo “didn’t believe Tonja Brown (respondent) did direct Officer John Davis” (ROI 22)

Town Manager Tebo determined during her initial review of the subject complaint against Respondent that it did not merit further consideration by the Town Council nor did the Councilmember instruct her to place it on the agenda; otherwise, she would have placed it on the next meeting agenda.  (ROI 23, 25)  According to Town Manager Tebo, Complainant and his wife “have filed an exorbitant amount of citizen complaints with varous Town Managers, as well as numerous lawsuits against the Town” over the past 20 years.  (ROI 25).  Their “complaints always were “without merit.”  (ROI 25).  She said that she handled this complaint exactly the same way she handled other similar complaints.  (ROI 25)  Councilmember McKenzie confirmed that the Complainent and his wife file so many complaints with the Town, in so many different ways, it is impossible to keep up with when or how he receives them.  (ROI 28).

Respondent denied asking or directing town Manager Tebo to refrain from placing a complaint against her on the Town Council’s agenda for consideration.  (ROI 21).  Respondent stated, “I don’t have nothing to do with setting up the agenda.  That is up to the Town Manager.  She runs the Town, not me”.  (ROI 21)

Section 286,011 Florida Statutes provides that all meetings of boards, commissions, councils and the like are public meetings and any member who attends a non-public meeting is subject to a fine or prosecution for a misdemeanor.

Complainant stated that during a Town Council meeting held on June 12, 2018, then Mayor Spencer Lofton stated that he had investigated the complaint against Respondent by meeting with her and Town Manager Tebo and determined that there was “nothing inappropriate to report” about the matter (ROI 29).  Complainant inferred that there was a meeting held out-of-the Sunshine which indicates further evidence of respondent’s efforts to prevent the Town Council from considering his complaint against her (ROI 29)

Mayor Lofton acknowledged that he had individual discussions concerning the complaint with Town Manager Tebo and Officer Davis, but he denied having any private discussions with Respondent about the citizen’s complaint.  (ROI 30, 31, 32)

The Town Council’s agenda and the minutes of the June 12th meeting do not reflect any discussion by any Councilmember related to the complaint against Respondent (ROI 33).  Town Manager Tebo denied having a private meeting or private discussion with Respondent and Mayor Lofton during which the citizen’s complaint was discussed;  however, she recalled that, at one of  the Council meetings, Mayor Lofton made a very brief statement about the matter as a “sidebar”  (ROI 32, 33).  She said “I think Joe Griffin, Complainant, might have been complaining that “Nobody pays attention to me and I took a complaint in and now they didn’t even discuss it”  And I think that is maybe when Spencer Lofton had said, “Well, I did.  I asked John Davis about it and he said that it was not what you were saying it was”  Or something like that”.  (ROI 33)  Mayor Lofton could not recall any occasion when he stated during a Council meeting that he had a private meeting with Respondent.  (ROI 32).

This allegation rests in part on Complainant’s speculation that Respondent participated in a non-noticed private meeting between Mayor and Town Manager Tebo, and without more, it is insufficient evidence of such meeting.  Complainant’s further speculation that Respondent was involved in preventing a citizen’s complaint against her to be considered by the Town Council, without more, is insufficient upon which to base a violation.

Therefore, based on the evidence before the Commission, I recommend that the Commission find no probable cause to believe that Respondent violated Section 112.313 (6) Florida Statutes.

RECOMMENDATION

IT IS MY RECOMMENDATION THAT:

  1.  THERE IS NO PROBABLE CAUSE TO BELIEVE THAT RESPONDENT VIOLATED SECTION 112.313 (6) FLORIDA STATUTES, BY DIRECTING A WHITE SPRINGS CODE ENFORCEMENT OFFICER TO WRITE A LETTER TO THE OWNER OF A MOBILE HOME PARK DEMANDING ALTERATION TO THE PARK’S DRIVEWAY.

  2. THERE IS NO PROBABLE CAUSE TO BELIEVE THAT RESPONDENT VIOLATED SECTION 112.313(6) FLORIDA STATUTES, BY ACTING TO PREVENT THE WHITE SPRINGS TOWN COUNCIL FROM CONSIDERING A CITIZEN’S COMPLAINT FILED AGAINST HER, IN PART BY DISCUSSING THE COMPLAINT IN AN OUTSIDE-THE SUNSHINE MEETING

KARIN’S COMMENT:  Of course, since Officer Davis was fired from the WSPD, most likely this was in retaliation of his resignation as code officer which I believe is horrid on the part of White Springs;  especially when his first child was born and he was fired upon returning from leave for no apparent reason.

THESE STATEMENTS TO THE COMMISSION INCLUDED MULTIPLE LIES BUT IN MY OPINION, THAT’S IS THE MODES OPERATION FOR BOTH STACY, LOFTON AND TONJA.  IT IS AMAZING HOW LOFTON DOES’NT RECALL WHEN HE SAID HE DID NOT USE THE WORD “INVESTIGATION” BUT DID.  AND IF YOU READ THIS, YOU WILL NOTE THE CONFLICTING STATEMENTS THEREIN.  INTERESTING.

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