City Officials Squabble Over Civility
Dunedin leaders upset over perceived character attacks, call for respect and civil discussion.
The mayor and a city commissioner squared off over civility Thursday night.
Mayor Dave Eggers said he would make no apologies for defending city staffers against Julie Scales’ "insinuations" that they violated state law. The issue boiled over, causing the commission to revisit a longstanding civility issue.
Scales raised suspicion during a Sept. 8 commission meeting for one-on-one commissioner meetings that the city finance director used to explain the complex wastewater rate models in advance of an Aug. 29 budget workshop.
The one-on-one meetings, Scales said, were used to circumvent public discussion, a direct violation of Florida Sunshine Law.
“It was essentially late afternoon the day before the workshop, I was given the presentation of the modeling and during the course of the presentation, it was, you know, ‘We decided this and we decided that, and I thought, ‘who’s we? This is the first time I’m hearing this,’” Scales, also a lawyer, said on Sept. 8. “I feel that decisions are not being made up here on the dias after full discussion and explanation.”
Eggers said Thursday that those comments attacked the character and integrity of the staffers.
He said the comment “throws out the impression that we are doing things in a sneaky fashion, and that’s the last thing anyone on this city staff would put up with. … I personally resent any kind of comments that insinuate we aren’t doing the job that we’re supposed to be doing.”
The comment sparked an investigation, but Tom Trask, interim city attorney, said Thursday that he did not find any violations.
Scales defended her view.
“In the past, discussions have happened up here on the dias,” she said and then, called for more public workshops and an end to one-on-one meetings, which cause confusion.
“I think staff is essentially reading tea leaves regarding what a decision is,” she said, and then, called for more civility.
This led officials into another civility discussion, a chronic issue that City Manager Rob DiSpirito attempted to squash during an April 14 commission retreat. He wrote in a retreat letter:
“Let us agree to avoid making innuendos and suggestions of non-professional behavior… . Whether made in public or privately, references such as ‘smoke and mirrors,’ ‘shell games,’ ‘back room deals,’ intentionally ‘jerking’ people around, ‘favoring’ certain commissioners, and ‘counting to 3,’ have no place in our business dealings because these statements are derogatory, insulting, reflect badly on the organization as a while, and most importantly, are simply not true.”
Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski, although absent from the Sept. 8 meeting, expressed disappointment Thursday.
“I think our staff has just been attacked all over again,” she said. “We all agreed after the retreat that we would follow what was in that letter. I think it’s important to say, this isn’t the first time this is happening.”
The mayor sternly reminded all the commissioners to “be very careful with words that are used up here” and to give staffers “the respect you are demanding in return.”
Eggers, Scales and Bujalski are each in their third term on the commission.
Scales is the only dissenting vote to allow city emails to be publicly searched before being filtered for private information. She failed to appear at a mandatory public records training session for reopening public email access because of scheduling conflicts.
All commissioners, except Scales, listed civility as a priority topic for the April 14 retreat, according to city records.