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Commissioner denies charges

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
Published June 14, 2006


REDINGTON BEACH - Commissioner Sam Maniotes, who faces a possible recall election, filed a formal response last week denying charges that include malfeasance and creating a hostile work environment for town employees.

The response is part of a lengthy recall process governed by state law and triggered last month by a recall petition.

A similar petition against Commissioner Leslie Peck-Epstein was declared invalid because she was just re-elected and must serve at least six months before she can be subject to recall.

In a six-part defense Maniotes:

n Said he is not the "custodian" of the town's public records. The petition accused him of "malfeasance" for failing to produce requested documents.

  • Denied having any "unexcused absences" from regularly scheduled commission meetings. The petition accused him of "neglect of duty" for missing many meetings.

  • Denied refusing to sign any "commission approved checks." The petition accused him of failing to sign checks.

  • Said it was "my duty and responsibility as a commissioner to inform the commission of wrongdoings regarding employees, vendors or elected officials." He said reports from the town's auditor and the Sheriff's Office "substantiated" his "allegations." The petition said his failure to "substantiate" his charges subjected the town to legal action and wasted taxpayers' money.

  • Said that since town employees do not directly report to him, and since he has little contact with employees, "allegations of creating a hostile work environment are untrue."

  • Said he has "never missed" a finance committee meeting from his election in March 2005 through May 2006 and has provided the town a long-term financial plan. He said the petition charge that he had failed to perform his duties "is completely untrue."

    The town has until Thursday to give the recall committee 80 copies of the original petition and Maniotes' formal defense. The committee will then have 60 days to gather signatures on a second recall petition.

    To be successful, the petition must contain the signatures of at least 15 percent of the town's 1,134 active voters. If verified, a recall election would be held no more than 60 days after the filing of the second petition.

    Meanwhile, legal wrangling continues over documents Maniotes claimed during a January meeting were "proof" that former town clerk Beverly Brown had changed budget numbers without authorization and that she "forged" checks on behalf of then-mayor Bob Fountaine.

    At the time, Maniotes also called for Brown to be fired, triggering months of controversy that included lawsuits and formal defamation complaints against the town, Maniotes and Peck-Epstein.

    Brown was put on administrative leave.

    She filed a lawsuit against the town and later was reinstated with no formal investigation of Maniotes' charges.

    She resigned last month when Peck-Epstein, sharply criticized her job performance and repeated some of the earlier charges.

    Last week, Fountaine filed a petition for a writ of mandamus asking the Circuit Court to force Maniotes and the town to produce the documents Maniotes claimed supported his charges against Fountaine and Brown.

    Fountain's petition says neither the town nor Maniotes has produced the records requested in April as required by the state's Sunshine Law, claimed any exemption or said the records do not exist.

    Specifically, Fountaine is asking for "evidence of forgery," pornographic e-mails Maniotes said were sent to him by Brown, budget worksheets and the "alleged doctored budget," and a $6,000 check Maniotes claimed was improperly written to a company owned by Fountaine.

    [Last modified June 14, 2006, 10:01:37]


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