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Seminole council censures member Patricia Plantamura

SEMINOLE — In a rare move, irate council members here censured Patricia Plantamura, asking her "to cease and desist" from disruptive behavior or "step down from the Seminole City Council."

The motion, made by council member Chris Burke, passed 6-1. Plantamura was the only dissenting vote.

"In spite of the council's vote of displeasure (censure) of my due diligence, I am encouraged by many community members' comments through which they recognize that, in asking questions, I am doing the work of a councilor," Plantamura said Tuesday in a written statement. "This censure action could cause the public to wonder, by the number of prepared opinions, and the consistent subject matter, whether an effort may have been coordinated outside of and before the council meeting. If so, this would be a violation of Florida sunshine standard law."

Censure is a formal way of saying that other council members disapprove of Plantamura's actions, but it has no legal clout, Seminole city attorney John Elias said. Plantamura retains her office and will continue to vote and act as a council member until she steps down voluntarily or is voted out of office. Her term ends November 2015.

The main impact is political, said Neil Brickfield, a former member of the Safety Harbor City Council and the Pinellas County Commission.

"That's a very rare thing for commissioners or elected officials to publicly censure a fellow elected official. That's not something you take lightly," said Brickfield, who is now a political consultant. "That's a pretty strong action. That's (saying that your fellow council member is) so far out of what's acceptable, we're taking this drastic step."

It's hard, if not impossible, to recover politically from such a vote, Brickfield said.

What's even more striking in this case, he said, is the source.

"This is a government that's known in Pinellas as one of the best," Brickfield said. "This is really out of character for them."

The action may be out of character for Seminole, but it has been brewing for a while. Plantamura has long been a critic of Seminole City Manager Frank Edmunds, accusing him of violating state law and of failing to respond in writing to criticisms and questions. She has historically given him low scores on job evaluations, or refused to submit written evaluations, saying she could not do so until he responded in writing to grievances that stem back several years.

Most recently, she charged that his management style created an atmosphere of hostility and intimidation that resulted, in part, in a department head's threatening her life. The department head denied the allegations and a sheriff's investigation was closed and marked "solved, non-criminal."

Soon after, Edmunds announced he will retire in January, having served almost 20 years as the city's first manager. Edmunds denied that Plantamura was the reason for his retirement but conceded her accusations influenced the timing of his announcement. On Tuesday, Plantamura suggested Edmunds is retiring because he wants to avoid answering her questions.

Edmunds could not be reached for comment but in the past has said that he has answered her questions.

That other council members do not agree with Plantamura's opinions about Edmunds has long been clear — they've given him uniformly stellar job reviews and defended him at the council table. But, until the July 8 meeting, they did nothing further.

At the end of the meeting, Burke, a Largo police officer and the council's newest member, asked other council members to censure Plantamura. The item was not on the council agenda.

"One of our council members is not acting in the best interests of our city or our voters," Burke said, reading from a scathing two-page memo that, among other things, accused her of "incessant attacks" on Edmunds.

Among other things, Burke said, Plantamura has "accused and chastised the city manager for creating a hostile work environment, but her constant haranguing of the city manager makes her guilty of the same offense … not fulfilled her council duty to submit the city manager's annual evaluation for the past three years ... left official meetings early or 'stormed out' when she did not care for the meeting dialogue."

Burke concluded with his motion to censure her, adding, "I request my fellow councilors and the mayor join me in asking her to cease and desist in these frivolous matters and focus on governing the city of Seminole, or otherwise step down from the Seminole city council to let us bring decorum and leadership back to our city."

Council member Bob Matthews seconded the motion, saying it was "inexcusable" for Edmunds "to be used as he is now."

The motion passed with no discussion. Plantamura first said, "no comment" when asked for her vote. Later, she changed it to "that would be a no from me."

Plantamura did not attend a July 10 workshop to discuss the proposed 2014-15 budget. Council member John Counts was also absent from the workshop.

Contact Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450. Follow @alindbergtimes.

Seminole council censures member Patricia Plantamura 07/17/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 17, 2014 5:00pm]
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