City worker Donna Givens volunteered to become a notary to help the city of Largo with annexations and continued to notarize city documents after she became a front-desk receptionist.
Now, Givens, an office specialist who makes $12.64 an hour, is being suspended for three days without pay for doing something prohibited by state law: notarizing a document that wasn't signed.
It's not surprising that her actions drew the attention of her bosses.
The missing signature on former Mayor Bob Jackson's loyalty oath led to his disqualification from the Largo mayor's race.
Her disciplinary action form said, "It is imperative that all notarizations include a signature, signed in her presence."
But several times since she became a receptionist, Givens has been asked by her supervisor and others to notarize documents that were not signed in front of her, also prohibited by state law.
Sometimes, those documents were signed by Mayor Pat Gerard, she said. And they may have occasionally been signed by City Manager Mac Craig, said City Clerk Diane Bruner.
State law says a "notary public may not notarize a signature on a document if the person whose signature is being notarized is not in the presence of the notary public at the time the signature is notarized."
Bruner drew a distinction between the cases. She or other staff were usually with officials when they signed documents that were later notarized by Givens, she said.
"I would say there's a difference between notarizing something that clearly has no signature and notarizing the mayor's signature or (Mac Craig's) signature when they're standing in front of us," Bruner said.
Gerard said she routinely signs code enforcement documents but wasn't aware that Givens later notarized them.
"I typically have a stack of them every week," Gerard said. "I wasn't aware that Donna (Givens) signed them later. Usually, there's someone standing there when I signed them."
Craig said he wasn't aware of any cases in which Givens notarized documents he signed, either.
"You're trying to tie this with the Bob Jackson thing," Craig said. "Surely, you know those are two completely different things."
Craig said he routinely signs documents, such as annexation agreements, without a notary present. And Craig, who attended a meeting with other city managers on Friday, said several other city leaders told him they do the same thing.
The procedure for notarizing documents does seem to vary from city to city.
In Dunedin, for example, some documents are signed in the presence of notaries and some are not, depending on the notary's preference, said Barbara Bessmer, a senior technical assistant in the clerk's office.
But Tim Caddell, spokesman for Pinellas Park, said notaries are always present when official city documents are signed.
"It all has to be witnessed," he said.
Givens, who has worked for the city for six years, asked for a pre-disciplinary hearing. But she chose not to further challenge the city's decision to suspend her.
"I'm willing to accept it because I made a mistake," said Givens, 49, who will begin her suspension Monday.
Jackson was upset to hear that Givens was disciplined.
"She did what she was told to do. She was given a paper by the city clerk and told to notarize it," he said. "They're making a scapegoat of her."
Bruner, who admitted she did not review his oath form thoroughly enough, should have been disciplined instead, Jackson said.
Bruner made a mistake, Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert said, but "from a legal perspective, it was ultimately the candidate's responsibility to make sure they complied with all of the legal requirements."
Florida State Statutes
117.107 Prohibited acts.
(9) A notary public may not notarize a signature on a document if the person whose signature is being notarized is not in the presence of the notary public at the time the signature is notarized. Any notary public who violates this subsection is guilty of a civil infraction, punishable by penalty not exceeding $5,000, and such violation constitutes malfeasance and misfeasance in the conduct of official duties.
(10) A notary public may not notarize a signature on a document if the document is incomplete or blank.