By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter
An alleged security breach at Bradenton Beach City Hall was investigated, but the Bradenton Beach Police Department found no evidence to prompt charges.
The BBPD was investigating a report of unauthorized sharing of city files after ELRA Inc. attorney Robert Lincoln sent an email to city attorney Ricinda Perry questioning Mayor Bill Shearon’s authority to give two employees pay raises.
The city clerk’s office noted that Lincoln had attached photos of city personnel records that had not been obtained through normal channels.
ELRA, the corporate entity for the BeacHhouse Restaurant, is suing the mayor, claiming the city charter defines his mayoral position as part of a weak-mayor system of government and alleging that Shearon has tried to remold the position to give him more authority.
The police investigation found that public works employee Christine Watson took photographs of documents and provided them to Lincoln. The records show $1-per-hour pay raises for two administrative employees, Tammy Johnson and Audra Lanzaro, according to the police report.
Of concern was whether the documents were taken and photographed without consent.
The investigation resulted in no criminal charges.
Investigating BBPD Sgt. Lenard Diaz said it was his opinion that no criminal acts occurred within the city government because the files, which are normally in a locked file cabinet, were said to be found on a desk in plain view when the photographs were taken.
City clerk Jamie Anderson told police the files had been moved from former deputy clerk Karen Cervetto’s office in order to have the room painted. Cervetto resigned in January after being disciplined by Shearon.
The investigation revealed that Watson took the photographs in January with her cellphone, when she noticed the documents on the desk while painting in some of the city offices.
Tom Woodward, the city’s public works director, said he would issue Watson a verbal warning.
Woodward said he did not believe Watson’s actions were malicious because news of the raises had upset several employees who claimed the mayor did not follow protocol for salary increases.
Johnson issued an email response to commissioners and city department heads regarding the conclusion of the investigation. In the email, she expressed her disappointment with the results.
“Regardless of whether there were criminal activities or not, unethical and unprofessional activities certainly took place, and that seems to have been swept under the carpet,” she wrote. “Someone employed by the city passed on illicitly gained information to an attorney who is in litigation with the city.”
Shearon defended his decision to issue pay raises, noting that Johnson and Lanzaro had no supervision, were acting as department heads and took on a lot more responsibility after longtime City Clerk Nora Idso resigned in November due to health issues.
“The problem was I couldn’t act as a department head, so I chose to make them department heads, my administrative staff was depleted by half.” he said. “The ship was sinking and I had to plug a hole.”
The pay raises were included in the $47,564 budget amendment that was approved by commissioners at the April 17 commission meeting.
In other business
The commission April 17 voted 3-2, with Shearon and Vice Mayor Janie Robertson opposed, to require that the city attorney communicate with all commissioners, not just the mayor, when discussing litigation.
During the April meeting, Robertson pulled an invoice for Perry that details her work from the consent agenda, saying she is uncomfortable with Lincoln communicating with Perry, who had charged the city for the conferences.
Robertson said Lincoln should be communicating with the mayor’s attorney Charles F. Johnson, of Blalock Walters, not the city attorney.
“We are not being informed about what is really going on in any of the lawsuits,” she said. “We are not getting any updates from any attorneys.”
Perry said she is obliged to respond to Lincoln in certain situations, but said she could “handle herself” if she believed Lincoln was taking advantage of the situation. She said she is required by law to provide Lincoln with public records and to discuss certain items in order to give him background.
Discussion ensued and Commissioner Jan Vosburgh made a motion to have Perry copy all commissioners when conferring litigation with the mayor.
Shearon assured the commission that there was no duplication of counsel and opposed the motion. “I’d like to see you try this and run the city,” he said.