Officials apologize following argument
By AMY WIMMER
© St. Petersburg Times,
MADEIRA BEACH -- The mayor and the chairman of the city's most powerful board quarreled after a recent City Commission meeting, and their argument ultimately included profanity and an offer to fight.
Now both have expressed their regrets.
Mayor Tom DeCesare said he planned to apologize at Tuesday night's meeting, the first since the dispute occurred May 15 at Madeira Beach City Hall.
Joe Jorgensen, chairman of the city's Board of Adjustment, already wrote a three-sentence note to the city: "I want to apologize for actions by me that may have offended you or any of our residents."
Said DeCesare, reading from statements he prepared for Tuesday night: "After I closed our last commission meeting, I did something I don't often do: I lost my temper and acted unprofessionally with a longtime friend, Joe Jorgensen. This is uncalled for, and I wish to apologize for my actions."
The impetus for the fight was an appearance before the City Commission by Lou and Mary Iozzino, who had applied to the Board of Adjustment for several variances on their property. The board turned them down, and the Iozzinos approached the City Commission to ask whether it could overturn the decision or help them fight it in Circuit Court.
DeCesare asked the commission and the city attorney several times whether anything could be done to help the Iozzinos, even though the commission could not overrule the decision and the couple's only choices were to reapply to the Board of Adjustment, using more facts than they had presented the first time, or take the issue to court.
Jorgensen declined Tuesday to offer his own version of what occurred after the meeting ended, but in a letter to commissioners, DeCesare described the incident this way:
"During the latter part of our meeting and after our meeting, the chairman of the Board of Adjustment, Joe Jorgensen, confronted the Iozzinos, making statements to them which I can only call highly intimidating," DeCesare wrote. "Seeing them visibly shocked and upset, I approached Mr. Jorgensen outside City Hall to discuss his unprofessional actions. He then directed several hostile, unprofessional, intimidating comments to me, at one point grabbing my shirt and tie."
Others who witnessed the dispute between Jorgensen and DeCesare said profanities peppered the conversation. One man reportedly asked the other to "step outside" to finish the argument.
Madeira Beach Commissioner Charles Parker told them to break it up, but he backed off when the argument continued.
"I felt that was the thing to do because I didn't know where this was headed," Parker said. "It looked very serious, like it could come to fisticuffs."
The dispute did not stop that evening. Two days later, DeCesare wrote a memo to commissioners stating he believed Jorgensen had "intimidated" the Iozzinos. "This situation demands prompt action on our part," DeCesare wrote.
Attached was a page from the city code with a section highlighted about how to remove Board of Adjustment members from their posts.
But when Jorgensen sent his short memo of apology to commissioners and city residents, DeCesare said he was ready to forget the whole thing.
"I'd like to make this a dead issue," DeCesare said. "The reason I say that is because apologies are all around, and I'm willing to settle it."
Neither man wanted to talk to the Times about the specifics of what transpired between them.
"I hope that there's no problem here, and I don't think there is. I'm not aware of any," Jorgensen said. "I'm not going to cause any problems. This is my town, and he is my mayor."
The men have known each other for 10 years and first met when DeCesare sat on a board of directors for a condominium that Jorgensen managed. Jorgensen said he was DeCesare's campaign manager one year when the mayor ran for election, and he has supported each of DeCesare's campaigns.
DeCesare said he did not believe the incident would have any lasting impact on commission business, even though Jorgensen's neighbor, business partner and close friend, Doreen Moore, sits on the City Commission.
"I'm going to apologize for the way I acted because it's not professional," DeCesare said. "I lost my temper."
Commissioner Jan Sturgis said she wishes she had interrupted DeCesare's response to the Iozzinos' request. She said she believes the commission should have a policy of simply referring citizen concerns to the appropriate city staff person, not publicly debating an issue someone brings to the panel during a portion of Madeira Beach public meetings called the "citizens' forum."
Had the Iozzinos' concern been handled appropriately, Jorgensen and DeCesare might not have confronted each other after the meeting, Sturgis said.
She declined to comment on what happened between the two. Parker expressed disappointment in how both men handled the situation.
"I thought it was inappropriate conduct on the part of both of the people," said Parker, adding that city officials have a greater responsibility than regular citizens to use restraint. "They both, as city officials, have a responsibility to maintain decorum, and I don't think they did that."
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