Residents say mayor dumped records

Law enforcement agents were given multiple documents retrieved by passers-by who say they saw Mayor Joanne Johannesson discard them in a trash bin.

Published June 20, 2006

YANKEETOWN - Residents who said they saw the mayor tossing out public documents decided to go Dumpster diving outside Town Hall Sunday evening.

They say they found records that filled two garbage sacks and a large box, some shredded and some intact.

The papers were handed over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Monday morning, said Ed Candela, a resident who participated in the trash bin search.

"The FDLE has everything now," he said. "They went through the dumpster, too."

The FDLE is still reviewing accusations made against town officials before deciding whether to proceed with an investigation.

Though it hasn't opened a case yet, the State Attorney's Office has supplied the FDLE with court documents related to the Yankeetown controversy, which started in December when residents learned developers planned to build a resort hotel on the Withlacoochee River.

Most recently, Candela and other residents noticed activity at Town Hall while passing by about 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Taking a closer look, Candela said he saw Mayor Joanne Johannesson and at least one resident throwing documents in the recycling trash bin outside.

Johannesson did not return phone calls Monday. Neither current Town Attorney Kenneth Warnstadt, nor former interim Town Attorney David LaCroix had heard the town would be disposing of public documents.

"I don't know a thing about it," Warnstadt said.

Candela said he and others snapped some pictures of the mayor inside the building and came back later to investigate.

Many documents were shredded, and thus illegible, but others hadn't been destroyed, including letters from residents who wanted to fill vacant positions on the Town Council and items people wanted placed on the agenda for upcoming meetings, Candela said.

Several residents also said they saw Elizabeth Weimer, who recently resigned from the Planning and Zoning Commission so she could be considered for a spot on the Town Council, assisting the mayor.

Asked Monday why she and Johannesson had been throwing away documents, Weimer said, "you better talk to the mayor about that."

Public records can only be destroyed according to schedules outlined by the Division of Library and Information Services of the Florida Department of State.

For example, local governments must hold onto applications for employment two years. Annexation documents can never be destroyed.

Records can only be disposed of once all outstanding litigation has been resolved and there have been no requests for those records in the last 30 days according to the State Department Web site.

Yankeetown is in litigation with Johannesson and has been sued by the developers of the resort hotel for not complying with public records requests.

LaCroix recently filed suit on behalf of Johannesson against the town, Levy County Supervisor of Elections Connie Asbell and Maxine Comer, who is leading a committee to recall the mayor. A hearing date has been set for June 28.

Residents, concerned about the development, have said numerous times that documents were removed from Town Hall and that they received no responses to their requests for records.

But Town Hall was more impenetrable than usual Monday morning, said some residents.

Workers came to change the locks on the door, as a result of the resignations of the town clerk and assistant town clerk, Warnstadt said. Residents said they could only step a couple feet into the building because a desk and table served as a makeshift barricade.

"Everyone's just shaking their heads, saying 'what the heck's going on?'" Candela said.

Elena Lesley can be reached at 564-3627 or elesley@sptimes.com.