HIGH SPRINGS – During the Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, High Springs City Commission meeting, City Attorney Scott Walker suggested the Commission consider formulating a Code of Conduct for Public Officials. The suggestion was made on the heels of Vice-Mayor Scott Jamison’s statement near the meeting’s end regarding negative comments and innuendo issued by another commissioner on that commissioner’s blog site.
Referring to the High Springs Personnel Policy and Procedure Manuel, Jamison suggested that public officials should be held to at least the same, if not to a higher, standard as the city’s employees.
Citing comments seen on Commissioner Bob Barnas’ blog, he said he believed the use of social media to ridicule, harass and intimidate certain High Springs citizens and public officials was a major concern. One example involved “a picture of a High Springs citizen posted on the blog and referred to as, “the bi-atch witch of the year.” The other, he said, is directed to a local businessman/lawyer and reads as follows; “He like Cheaper. He wants you to believe the Troiano ANALysis. He forgot that either Travis or Troiano was a liar.”
“Now, let’s understand what was written,” said Jamison. “A former commissioner and Chief of Police are called a liar. Why?” he asked. “Why are we willing to accept this type of behavior from our public officials?”
In addressing a separate, yet similar, incident, Jamison cited the use of City email to disparage him and two other commissioners. He explained, “The email in question is a reply from a commissioner to a citizen’s comments about the closing of the road through James Paul Park. Specifically, the email states, ‘No experts made this closure. Three commissioners did[;] that received donations from the Hewletts. There is why.’”
Jamison continued by saying, “For a sitting commissioner to suggest that I or any commissioner would be swayed by a donation is insulting, unprofessional and borders on slander. Each commissioner has the right to voice an alternative opinion, but not at the expense of impugning another commissioner’s character.” Jamison cited the use of the City email to make the allegation as a “far cry from a private social medium. What is transmitted on the City email is done so as a representative of the City. This is a whole different ballgame,” he said.
Jamison further queried how one commissioner’s comments might impact the City. “Are the posts on bobbarnas.com subject to public records request” or the Sunshine Law,” he asked. “Can the City be held liable for the posts on bobbarnas.com?”
Citing the City’s “Code of Ethical Standards, “Section 10.1 (C), (G) and (I) elaborating on the Creed for Public Employees and Section 10.3 regarding Personal Conduct, he asked, “What type of behavior do you expect from your public officials?”
“This isn’t an issue of free speech. What this is about is basic respect and decency. These…policy statements…describe the levels of ethical behavior, civility and professionalism that we require from our employees; shouldn’t we expect at least the same from our public officials?” he asked.
Earlier in the evening, during the Citizen Comments portion of the agenda, resident Suzie Ann Clark read a statement into the record in which she charged “cyber harassing and cyber stalking” on the part of one commissioner toward her. Identifying both terms as referring to abuse by adults toward adults, Clark said she “never thought I’d be saying this, but one of our publicly elected City Commissioners has been doing just that – cyber harassing on a blog that is both false and incorrect and cannot be responded to.”
“Between the name calling, false accusations and the posting of my business name and my picture, I personally feel threatened, and also feel like my business is being stalked. This same treatment, from this Commissioner, has been also extended to other High Springs citizens…” she said, naming some.
Clark said she wanted to put the record straight regarding the Monday morning Zumba class and the accusation that she was charging participants, even though the Civic Center had been provided to the class for free.
“False,” she said. Paraphrasing she said, a tip jar is out for anyone who wishes to help defray the Zumba instructor’s gas and time since she drives to High Springs from Gainesville as a favor to us to teach our previously-funded class. We all feel it’s better, health-wise, to keep this class going.
“I am requesting the City Manager, City Attorney and City Mayor to put an end to this. This harassing is causing substantial emotional distress and intended to threaten my business and my reputation, and serves no legitimate purpose,” she said.
Although neither specifically named the commissioner in question during their presentations, Jamison mentioned the name of the blog, bobbarnas.com, thus leaving no doubt to which commissioner he was referring.
Barnas attempted to get Mayor Sue Weller to silence Clark during her presentation and started to walk out of the meeting during Jamison’s comments, but returned to his seat and requested the opportunity to comment following Jamison’s comments. Mayor Weller adjourned the meeting with Barnas vowing to comment at the next meeting.
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