Tarpon official faces heat over reported insult

Published May 5, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS - The chairman of the Tarpon Springs Board of Adjustments has come under fire for a derogatory comment he reportedly made about a commissioner before an April meeting.

The alleged incident occurred April 25 when board Chairman John Hattey insulted Commissioner Robin Saenger to a city staffer, calling the commissioner a "stupid b----, " according to a report released Wednesday by police Chief Mark LeCouris, the acting city manager.

Planning and zoning staffer Virginia Haller said that Hattey also called Tarpon Spring's tree ordinance "the 'stupidest thing' he had ever heard of." Haller said she was concerned that Hattey was unable to be objective about an item on that evening's agenda that dealt with the tree ordinance.

Hattey could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The city's tree ordinance, passed last summer, created new rules that require permits before trees are cut down and stiffened penalties for developers who illegally cut down trees.

In the city's report, LeCouris said, "Obviously, the unwarranted derogatory remark about Commissioner Saenger is inappropriate in and of itself, but to make it in front of a city staff member is absolutely unacceptable. It put our staff member in a terrible position and caused a great deal of distress that night and the days that followed."

At Tuesday's commission meeting, Mayor Beverley Billiris called the incident "a severe violation and a disgrace to the city."

City commissioners will consider whether to remove Hattey from the board at their May 15 meeting. At Tuesday's commission meeting, city attorney Jim Yacavone said the commission could vote to remove Hattey without cause.

The Board of Adjustments works with the city's planning department to review zoning variances. Board members must be residents of the city and are appointed by commissioners for three-year terms. It was unclear Wednesday how long Hattey had served on the board.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Saenger said she had not yet seen the memo released by LeCouris and declined to comment until she could review his report.