Seminole council member accuses city staffer of threatening her life

SEMINOLE — Council member Patricia Plantamura has filed a sheriff's report accusing a city department head of threatening to kill her.

She has also asked deputies for protection from Mayor Leslie Waters and council member Bob Matthews, whom she accuses of orally confronting her on separate occasions. Waters, she said, orally attacked her before a workshop; Matthews, after a meeting.

Plantamura in large part blames City Manager Frank Edmunds for the situation. In a six-page memo to Edmunds dated June 2, she accuses him of a lack of professionalism and of fostering an atmosphere of hostility and intimidation.

"I trust that you are taking this issue seriously because I am," she concluded in the memo. "For my protection, I have contacted an attorney at the Florida Commission on Ethics in Tallahassee where the alleged threat on my life has been recorded. That office has also referred me to the State of Florida Attorney General."

It is unclear whether Plantamura has filed a report with that office.

Edmunds said he finds Plantamura's accusations "ridiculous." Edmunds, who has been the city's only manager, announced his retirement Tuesday. He will leave office in January, after nearly 20 years in the position.

Plantamura is not alone in saying she fears for her safety. City Clerk Rose Benoit joined with the council member in her complaint to deputies about the alleged threat. And Benoit, on June 4, filed a formal complaint with the city's Human Resources Department alleging harassment and a hostile work environment.

In her complaint, she says the threat was "improper, unacceptable and disrespectful and must not happen again in the workplace.."

An investigation concluded her complaints were unfounded.

Plantamura's complaint arises from a public records request she made earlier this year for information related to a 2007 council vacancy. Plantamura, a candidate at the time, also applied for the vacancy. City Attorney John Elias ruled that she could not be considered because her electoral opponents were sitting council members and would have a conflict of interest

The memo Elias wrote in 2007 was not in city files when Plantamura asked for it this year although he had a copy in his office. At one point, development director Mark Ely was given the job of helping Benoit answer Plantamura's request. Benoit turned down Ely's help.

According to the sheriff's report, Ely "then got an attitude with (Benoit) and stated, 'If the council could, they would put a hit out on councilwoman Plantamura anyway.'"

Benoit told Plantamura, who reported it to the Sheriff's Office.

Deputy Damian Peyinghaus noted that "It does not appear any criminal charges will be filed at this time. (Ely) did not directly threaten (Plantamura or Benoit)." The case was closed and marked "solved, non-criminal."

Ely maintained he had not made any threatening statement, even as a joke.

"I did not say that," Ely said. He declined to speculate why Benoit would make up the accusation.

Benoit said this week that she stands by the accusation. Benoit said she did not take the comment as a joke.

"I really got scared,'' she said. "In today's world, you have to report it."

Likewise, Plantamura did not see the alleged comment as a joke.

"Anyone in this atmosphere would take it very, very seriously," Plantamura said this week. By "this atmosphere," Plantamura said she was referring to the number of shooting incidents across the country.

In her memo to Edmunds, she also complained about "bold confrontations" she suffered from Waters and Matthews. Matthews, she said, confronted her after a meeting to tell her to turn in a report "from an agenda item from a council meeting months earlier." Waters publicly criticized her before a workshop for an invocation Plantamura had given during a previous meeting. In response, Plantamura left the room and did not attend the workshop.

Plantamura asked that the city's community deputies be ready to intervene should she again be confronted by her fellow council members. She renewed that request in her memo:

"I am standing up for myself (and others) to advise that these bold confrontations are not acceptable. I ask again now that law enforcement be on standby at meetings so they may intercede if necessary."

Matthews agreed that he reminded Plantamura after a meeting of a job requirement that she turn in certain reports within a set time. But, Matthews said he did not see it as a confrontation: "Until I read the (memo), I wasn't aware of my threat to anyone."

Waters also agreed she had critiqued Plantamura's invocation as being outside adopted guidelines.

"It was . . . inappropriate, unacceptable and bothersome," Waters said this week. "This is politics. . . . Everybody gets whupped around or disagreed with. She's taking it personally."

As for Plantamura's critique of Edmunds: "I hold Frank Edmunds in the highest regard. I'm not taking that bait."

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

Seminole council member accuses city staffer of threatening her life 06/12/14 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2014 11:20am]

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