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  1. Education

Citizen's group calls for Temple Terrace mayor to resign over diploma mill Ph.D.

TEMPLE TERRACE — Members of a citizens group say they will ask for the resignation of Temple Terrace mayor Mel Jurado at a City Council meeting next week in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times report raising questions about two college degrees Jurado claims to have.

"As an elected official, she has the obligation and the duty to follow the law,'' said Nicole M. Ford, a University of Tampa political science professor and member of the citizens group Re-Imagine Temple Terrace, which works to spur discussion about the city's economic future.

Members of the group plan to speak before the City Council on Oct. 16.

A Times investigation published online Thursday revealed that Jurado, known in Temple Terrace as "Dr. Mel,'' received her Ph.D. from unaccredited La Salle University in Mandeville, La., a diploma mill raided by the FBI and shut down. In addition, the newspaper could find no record to back her claim she has a master's degree in sports medicine from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

RELATED: In Temple Terrace she's Dr. Mel, but the mayor's Ph.D. came from a diploma mill

Ford pointed to a Florida law prohibiting anyone with a degree from an unaccredited institution from using the title Dr. before a name or Ph.D. afterward. Violation is a fraud and a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.

Meantime, in response to the newspaper report, the city of Temple Terrace issued a statement Friday defending the mayor.

"The allegations contained in the Tampa Bay Times article have no bearing on the fitness or qualifications of Mel Jurado to serve as Mayor of the city of Temple Terrace,'' the statement reads. "As mayor, she tirelessly represents the city of Temple Terrace with passion and professionalism and her proven track record of leadership underscores her dedication and commitment to the citizens of this city.''

Asked who ordered the city's response, Laurie Hayes, marketing and communications officer, said she issued it "on behalf of the City of Temple Terrace."

Jurado's lawyer, Mark Levine, said Monday his client had no comment on the Times report "at this time."

Jurado, 59, runs a human resources consulting firm with husband Rob Jurado and has been active in Republican politics, serving on more than a dozen state and local boards and twice as a gubernatorial appointee.

She told the Times in an interview Sept. 13 that she did the work required for her Ph.D. and presented a 460-page dissertation as proof. But she said she did not know until a reporter told her that the school had been closed as a diploma mill.

Jurado has not typically disclosed where she earned her Ph.D. when she listed her credentials on websites or in job applications.

She did not respond to requests to provide proof she received a sports medicine degree from the University of Illinois. The registrar there could find no record she did. Jurado has listed the degree on at least two applications for government positions.

Members of the Temple Terrace City Council had mixed reactions to the news about her degree claims.

David Pogorilich defended Jurado and expressed outrage at the Times report.

"Whether or not she has a Ph.D. has nothing to do with being mayor," Pogorilich said. "She's a fantastic mayor. She's a fantastic citizen. I don't know how you guys latched on to this idea, but I think it was wrong for the newspaper to even pursue.''

Council Member Cheri Donohue called Jurado a good representative of the city but said she'd like to see the mayor address the newspaper's investigation.

"I am so disappointed for our city," Donohue said. "I certainly hope that she can settle this matter quickly so that the citizens are not left doubting her abilities.''

City Council Member Robert Boss said he would expect elected officials on every level to provide truthful information in their biographies.

"I would hope she would have reported everything accurately,'' Boss said. "We'll see how it plays out.''

Levine, Jurado's lawyer, questioned the relevance of the Times investigation.

"We know she did the dissertation,'' Levine said. "We know she did the course work. It's not like she used her degree to enhance her status within a job. She's doing the same thing today she was doing when she got this degree.''

Asked about her claim to have a master's in sports medicine, Levine said, "I have no knowledge of that.''