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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 before being filtered for private information. She failed to appear at a 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.

Marion Humann September 24, 2011 at 05:35 PM
After reading the above repot I would like to ask a few questions. Why was the one commissioner who did not attend the September 8th meeting asked to comment, while those who did are not quoted? Did your reporter ask Commissioner Scales about her absence from the noted seminar. Did she deliberately not attend?. Was she sick?, Did she have a legitimate excuse for not attending? Personally I am disappointed in the Patch. When something that is of interest to the community, I want to see facts, not innuendo. God knows there is enough questionable media reporting , please do not become another conduit of opinion.
julie scales September 24, 2011 at 06:45 PM
Katie, I am very disappointed in you once again omitting key facts regarding the public access issue, omissions which distort and misrepresent my positions and actions regarding that issue: (1) the meeting with the City Attorney was scheduled on very short notice, I had a conflict, and I contacted the City Attorney to schedule a meeting with him separately. Although I also notified the Mayor of this, he did not mention it at the meeting; however, the City Attorney did announce those facts. (2) the public assess issue was not about whether or not to provide access (that is a given) but what procedure to use that would also protect certain privacy rights which have been granted to our citizens by law. Given that I pointed these matters out to you after your first article, I believe you now owe me an apology and a public correction of your article. Commissioner Julie Scales
Jim Watkins September 25, 2011 at 12:50 AM
Don't normally comment on stories, but as I read this one, there are nothing but facts and quotes in this story. Don't see a lot of opinion or any innuendo by the reporter. Looks like the reporter also gave all sides of the story. If a politicain can't take a little criticism, I say its time to resign. Looks like somebody's skin is way too thin. Must be lots of truth in this article.
Katie Dolac September 25, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Hi Marion! Feel free to follow links to coverage of the traning session that Scales missed. I included in this story and the previous story (as linked above), that she was absent due to scheduling conflicts. As for the commissioner who commented but was not at the Sept. 8 meeting: All commissioners are permitted and encouraged to share comments regarding all issues. All commissioners spoke on this topic. All of these meetings are recorded in their entirety on Dunedin's public access channel (Dunedin TV) and can be watched at anytime.
Marion Humann September 25, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Mr Watkins, I just want to thank you so much for your comments on my inquiries. I like yourself do not ordinarily write comments but I have to tell you what prompted me this time. I like the full story , call me quirky if you will. I subscribe to two newspapers everyday so that get different points of view on national and international, local subjects and I listen many newscasts during the week. I love the City of Dunedin, it is my home I raised my children here and I am very interested in what happens in my community. I expect a local reporter who is covering local affairs to keep me informed on who, what ,where and when things happen. Again I want the full story. I make up my own mind and go from there. Your reply told me that you were not interested in both sides and you have made up your mind about how things should be. It would be very presumptuous of me to think others feel the way that I do. With all respect your note has been so enlightening.
Katie Dolac September 25, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Thanks for speaking out, Commissioner. I absolutely invite any and all to set the record straight or clarify things that don't seem captured fairly. I hope you'll find that I included the fact that you were absent due to scheduling conflicts and linked to the full story regarding that training. I also included that you dissented to allowing access to records before they could be "filtered for private information," which, from my understanding, is the key reason you dissented. I also linked to the full story regarding that vote.
Jim Watkins September 25, 2011 at 07:55 PM
I'm sorry Marion. I think both sides were covered. I think all key players were quoted. It was a news story covered the way journalists should cover them, with facts, no favorites, no hyperbole, no attacks. Just facts and quotes from all key players. Let's agree to disagree about what constitutes a well writtern news story.

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