TEMPLE TERRACE — Mayor Mel Jurado said nothing as speaker after speaker took to the microphone to address revelations that the Ph.D. she has long touted comes from a diploma mill and that she cannot prove she holds a master's degree she also included in her resume.
But a few hours before the Tuesday night City Council meeting, Jurado did react by changing her profile at the city of Temple Terrace web page — dropping the "Dr." before her name and removing a reference there to a Ph.D. in psychology.
More than two dozen people appeared before the City Council, some of them — including a few professors — calling for Jurado to resign. But by a margin of 18-9, most came to the mayor's support, praising her as a public servant and deriding as a witch hunt a Tampa Bay Times report Oct. 4 that spelled out the discrepancies in her academic claims.
Susan Greenbaum of Tampa, a retired University of South Florida professor who worked with Ph.D. candidates, said she thinks the mayor should step down.
"I don't think she needs to have a Ph.D. to do the job," Greenbaum said. "She probably doesn't even need a master's degree. But she does need to be truthful."
Greenbaum finds the mayor's claims embarrassing, she said, adding, "it hurts me because I know how many of those students I shepherded through this process who came out with student loans that are just crushing them now.''
Elaine Coniglio of Temple Terrace, on the other hand, who said she has known Jurado for 12 years, called the newspaper's investigation an attempt at character assassination that smacks of politics.
"As far as this issue is concerned, me, I don't give a damn," Coniglio said.
The audience filled the City Council chambers to its capacity of 102 as comments about Jurado stretched beyond an hour. When a seat became available, someone waiting outside was ushered in.
Despite the outpouring of opinion, none of the five council members had any response. Jurado, who runs the council meetings, opened the "persons wishing to heard" segment with her routine assurance that city staff would follow up on concerns raised, then moved on without a word to the next agenda item once the comments about her ended.
Council member Cheri Donohue, who told the Times earlier that Jurado should address her academic credentials, said Wednesday she still feels the same way.
"It's obvious that she has done a good job as our representative, as mayor, but there is still the lingering question that she needs to answer," Donohue said. "I'm counting on her to do the right thing and set the record straight. I'm hoping that she does that soon.''
Jurado and husband Rod Jurado, partners in the human resources consulting firm The Profitable Group, are both active in local Republican politics and she has served on more than a dozen state and local boards — twice through appointment by the Florida governor.
A third version of the mayor's biography since the Times started asking questions appeared on the Temple Terrace city website Tuesday afternoon. The first version said Jurado had a Ph.D. from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The second, after she had spoken with reporters, was revised to say she had a master's degree from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. from La Salle in Louisiana. The new version lists only a master's degree from University of Illinois.
The original bio also appeared on the website of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. but has been removed altogether. The agency said it is waiting for an updated version from Jurado.
The mayor's profile on the business networking site LinkedIn still says she has a Ph.D. from LaSalle in Louisiana and two master's degrees, one in psychology and the other in sports medicine.
But records show LaSalle was an unaccredited correspondence school shut down in 1996 as its founder pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion. And the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says it never issued Jurado a master's degree in exercise physiology and sports medicine, as she has claimed on at least two applications for government positions.
She does hold a master's degree in psychology from the University of Illinois.
Jurado told the Times she was unaware LaSalle was a diploma mill until a reporter informed her and said she had records proving she received the master's degree in 1983. Since then, she has refused to respond to the newspaper's inquiries.
The discrepancies didn't concern people who turned out for the Tuesday meeting to express their support.
Bill Snelling of Temple Terrace said he voted for Jurado because she was the best candidate: "Her academic record had no bearing on my vote then, nor is it relevant now.''
A friend of Jurado's, Annette Renny, said politics is behind the revelations about the mayor and compared it to the divisive U.S. Senate vote earlier this month to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court justice.
"This witch hunt reminds of the Kavanaugh hearings,'' Renny said.
One critic of Jurado mentioned the witch hunt comments in speaking to the council.
"I feel sorry for everyone here who wants to live in a world where facts are subjective and integrity does not matter,'' said Amina Spahic, Tampa Bay area regional director for the Muslim political engagement group Emerge USA.
Addressing the mayor, Spahic said, "I don't think you should be the face of this city.''
Contact Philip Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.