CLEARWATER — One of the city's top government employees was arrested over the weekend after police said he drove a golf cart while intoxicated into outdoor tables at the Clear Sky restaurant on Cleveland Street, grabbed a patron filming the incident out of a chair by the neck and fled the scene.
Community Redevelopment Agency director Seth Taylor, 38, was transported to the Pinellas County Jail but was not booked, according to the arrest affidavit. Instead he was entered into the Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion Program at 4 a.m. Sunday, which allows adults arrested for low-level crimes to avoid jail by completing community service, counseling or drug treatment.
He was placed on paid administrative leave by the city on Monday, according to communications director Joelle Castelli.
City manager Bill Horne said Tuesday, "An exit decision has been made. He will be leaving the city. What's not finalized is how he's going to do that." Horne said it will be decided today whether Taylor will resign or be fired.
Ryan Waller, 36, said he was sitting outside the restaurant with his wife and friend Saturday and called police twice between 10:30 and 11:30 p.m. to report Taylor driving a golf cart with no headlights on the sidewalk. Taylor ran the golf cart into tables and potted plants, screaming they were not Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant and should be moved, Waller said.
When Taylor refused to leave after being asked by restaurant employees, Waller said he began recording the incident.
"He put his hand up when he noticed me recording and said 'What are you, a Scientologist?' " Waller said.
Waller, an Army reservist who served in communications in Afghanistan, Africa and Qatar between 2007 and 2010, said Taylor then approached, put him in a rear choke hold and pulled him out of his chair. Waller said his military training clicked into gear and he was able to shake the 6-foot-2 Taylor off before he fled.
"Having been deployed and all that stuff, I don't sit with my back to people," Waller said. "When he did that, it stirred something in me I hadn't felt in some time."
Clearwater police responded to the incident, which occurred during the House of Beer Oktoberfest Celebration, about 11:40 p.m. Officers arrested Taylor nearby around 1 a.m.
Taylor was hired in July 2016 after working in neighborhood revitalization in New York City and was tasked with helping to redevelop downtown.
He launched an aggressive incentive program in June, offering businesses $250,000 grants for renovations, to cover rent, buy furniture and other startup costs if they locate downtown for at least five years.
Taylor has sparred with the Church of Scientology, downtown's largest landowner, after speaking out against Scientology leader David Miscavige's now-rescinded offer to invest in infrastructure renovations and retail recruitment. Church officials have refused to work with Taylor after his public comments on the issue earlier this year.
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In a handwritten letter to Horne on Monday, Taylor said, "it is difficult to put into words the shame and embarrassment I feel."
Taylor asked him to consider the steps he's taking to learn from the event and seek treatment to "live a healthier and more productive life."
"Downtown redevelopment is a calling for me, and I can assure you that I will take this incident as an opportunity to come back more focused and with a greater sense of humility for the career I am fortunate to have," Taylor wrote. "Bill, I am asking for a second chance to prove myself."
Clear Sky owner Dan Shouvlin said Tuesday that he has a good working relationship with Taylor and holds no ill will for the behavior.
"Frankly, we hold no animosity towards him as a company," Shouvlin said. "He was having a bad day."
Waller said he had no injuries beyond a bruised leg. But he wants to see Taylor charged criminally.
"He needs to go volunteer at a veterans facility so he can learn what service members are sacrificing for him,'' Waller said, "and he needs to make a sizable donation to one of those."
Contact Tracey McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.