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    Plant City manager quits as investigation continues

    Phillip Waldron, citing health and family issues, steps down. He says it's not related to charges of police corruption.

    By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 17, 2002
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    PLANT CITY -- City Manager Phillip Waldron resigned at a special commission meeting Tuesday, a week after a federal trial in which two former officers detailed wide-ranging corruption in the Plant City Police Department.

    The timing of Waldron's resignation made many observers think he was the latest casualty of the federal investigation, which could still claim others. The former officers had testified that Waldron knew about problems within the department, including the stealing of pornographic videotapes.

    Waldron, however, said his resignation had nothing to do with the federal probe.

    Waldron told the 125 people packed into the meeting room that he had thought of retiring for several months. The pressure and long hours had taken a toll on his health and the amount of time he could spend with his family, he said.

    Waldron conceded, however, that as city manager he was ultimately responsible for everything that happened in city departments.

    "I'm the one who takes the heat," he said after the meeting. "But I'm not leaving because of the investigation."

    Mayor Michael Sparkman said Waldron had talked to him several times in the last few months about retirement. They talked again on Friday and Waldron told him of his final decision early Tuesday.

    "I've witnessed the stress that he has been under," Sparkman said.

    Plant City, a bucolic town of 31,000 people about 20 miles east of Tampa, has been under a spotlight for months, as allegations of corruption within the 60-officer police department trickled out.

    Last week, in the trial of officer Armand Cotnoir, the trickle turned into a torrent.

    Two former officers, Greg Laughlin and Robert David Dixon, outlined myriad illegal activities within the department's Special Investigations Unit, including officers faking warrants, lying to judges, making illegal searches and stealing dozens of pornographic videotapes from suspects' homes.

    Laughlin, now a U.S. Secret Service agent, sparked the investigation in 1999 when he told a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent about the criminal activity. Laughlin was not in the unit and is not accused of any wrongdoing. Dixon pleaded guilty last year and agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

    Former officer Shawn Corgan, who also pleaded guilty and agreed to testify, was expected to confirm much of what Dixon and Laughlin said. But he never got to testify because Cotnoir abruptly pleaded guilty to all the charges last week and said he would cooperate with the investigation.

    Before Cotnoir's plea, Dixon and Laughlin testified that several high-ranking officers, including Capt. John Borders and Chief Bill McDaniel, knew about the activity and condoned it or looked the other way. McDaniel and Borders have denied participating in any criminal activity.

    Laughlin and Dixon also testified that Waldron knew about problems within the unit. Waldron regularly joined officers when they executed search warrants, they said. Laughlin testified that at one crime scene Waldron held up a video and asked Dixon, "You gonna add this one to your collection?"

    Dixon told the jurors: "If your sergeant, captain, city manager and your chief know what's going on, who's going to get you in trouble?"

    Waldron has denied knowing anything about the officers stealing pornographic videos and making such a statement at a crime scene. He did not want to comment about specific aspects of the investigation or what should happen next with regard to the police department.

    "Those are decisions for the next city manager and the commission," he said.

    Commissioner Richard Glorioso said he hadn't come to the meeting expecting Waldron to resign.

    "We need to make the right decisions in the next few weeks to make sure we reestablish confidence in the city leadership," he said.

    The commission voted 4-1 to accept the resignation, with Commissioner John Dicks dissenting.

    Dicks called the resignation an "extreme measure." He wondered how Waldron's leaving would improve the situation at the police department.

    "What will this resolve?" he asked.

    Mayor Sparkman said the city clerk, Martin J. Wisgerhof, would likely take over for Waldron until an interim city manager can be found. A search for a permanent replacement could take several months.

    Sparkman saw no reason to push for Chief McDaniel's termination. He said the city was still in fact-finding mode. Only the city manager can fire the police chief.

    "We still don't know all the facts," Sparkman said. "What we have heard so far we are taking seriously."

    Waldron, 53, joined the city's zoning department in 1986. After becoming city manager in 1998, he oversaw projects that included downtown revitalization, the new city hall, the new YMCA and improvement to the flood control infrastructure. Waldron, who earned $88,774 a year, was born in Tampa but raised mostly in Plant City.

    Waldron planned to take a few weeks off and maybe go on a vacation. But he doesn't plan on moving away.

    "Plant City is my hometown," he said. "I'm not leaving."

    -- Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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