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Tarpon Springs commissioner reprimanded for role in resident dispute

Jacob Karr said he was trying to help a city resident, but his colleagues allege he misused his office.
In this image from a livestream, Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Jacob Karr speaks during a June 14, 2022 meeting, where fellow commissioners reprimanded him for using his city position when he intervened in a private matter between a resident and a contractor. The commission removed him from intergovernmental boards and sent a complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics.
In this image from a livestream, Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Jacob Karr speaks during a June 14, 2022 meeting, where fellow commissioners reprimanded him for using his city position when he intervened in a private matter between a resident and a contractor. The commission removed him from intergovernmental boards and sent a complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics. [ City of Tarpon Springs via YouTube ]
Published Jun. 15|Updated Jun. 15

TARPON SPRINGS — Alina Greeley said she went “through hell and back” earlier this year with the company that began restoring her home after a fire, so she turned to City Commissioner Jacob Karr for help.

After meeting with Greeley to review her claims, Karr sent an email on April 20 to Master Restoration asking the company to refund $34,000 and explain another $38,000 of line item charges.

Karr sent the email using his city domain and signed off: “Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Seat 1.”

Master Restoration’s attorney Morgan Streetman responded asking why Karr was using government resources in a private contract dispute unrelated to city business. He copied City Attorney Tom Trask and said Karr’s comments exposed the city to a lawsuit for “per se defamation.”

Because the dispute was private and did not concern city government, Trask wrote in an April 27 email to the commission that Karr’s use of his city email “could be considered a misuse of public office” in violation of state law.

On Tuesday, the commission passed a resolution that reprimanded Karr for “acting inconsistent to the standards of conduct for public office,” removed him from intergovernmental boards and sent a complaint about his actions to the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Reading from a statement, Karr, who is in his second term, said he was unaware that he couldn’t use his city email in the matter and did not benefit personally. His grandmother died in a house fire in 2020, so he said he was trying to use the knowledge of insurance claims from that incident to help a resident.

“I was not demanding or flexing in any way trying to misuse my power provided to me from the residents of Tarpon Springs,” he wrote.

Karr took a verbal lashing from commissioners Michael Eisner, Panagiotis Koulias and Craig Lunt, who all asked him to resign. The public admonishment had reverberations from the March commission election, where Karr publicly endorsed the opponents of the three new commissioners and Mayor Costa Vatikiotis.

“This is a complete embarrassment to the city and our board,” Eisner said. “My opinion is you owe the residents and the board a meaningful apology. My only blessing is you didn’t support any of us in the last election because ... we are dedicated, and we have true integrity and wouldn’t do such a thing.”

Before their election, Eisner, Koulias and Lunt were among residents who vocally opposed a controversial 404-unit apartment complex on the Anclote River that the commission approved last year. Vatikotis was the only commissioner at the time to vote against it.

Karr defended his actions as an innocent misstep but did not apologize as his colleagues requested. On Wednesday, he said he will not apologize unless the Florida Commission on Ethics confirms he violated state law.

“It was a straight political attack on me,” Karr said. “It’s the same people that have been attacking me as residents, they’re just on the board now. I take character and integrity to the highest degree.”

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In an interview Wednesday, Vatikiotis said his decision to put the resolution reprimanding Karr on the agenda was about transparency in government, not politics.

“At some point this had to become public because it was an egregious matter, and when you get the type of email from an attorney that says you’ve committed per se defamation, that’s not political,” Vatikiotis said.

After the initial response from Master Restoration’s attorney on April 27, Karr responded that he was not representing the Greeleys but was sometimes asked to help with problems “as a public servant to 25,000 residents.” He asked Streetman to “do the right thing” and credit the family for incomplete work.

Karr sent another email to Streetman that day stating he was stepping away from the matter. That came after Trask, the city attorney, became aware of the situation and advised him to do so, Trask confirmed.

Asked if Master Restoration intended to sue the city, Streetman said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times that they are “not taking any options off the table at this time.” He said the company completed all work and is owed payment.

Greeley said Karr was not paid for his help and that he was helping “out of the kindness of his heart.”

“I think the idea of a local government wanting to reprimand someone for wanting to help a citizen of Tarpon Springs is shocking,” Greeley said.

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