As first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Dunedin mayor Julie Bujalski and her husband Tom were chronically delinquent in paying for their boat slip at the Dunedin city marina. They received lenient treatment by the City of Dunedin, treatment which no other boat slip renter received. Turns out that there’s more to the story.
Through a public records request, the Guardian found that the mayor’s husband, Tom Bujalski, signed a “6-month amortization” document on July 19, 2016. According to Investopedia, “amortization is the paying off of debt with a fixed repayment schedule.” Even though a debt was owed, no interest was specified in the amortization document.
In other words, the Bujalskis received an interest-free loan from the same city Julie Bujalski is the mayor of. Interest-free loans are almost certainly an ethics violation under Florida Statutes 112.313 (6) “Misuse of Public Position”.
Bujalski claimed in an e-mail to a city resident that the amortization document was “fully vetted” by city attorney Tom Trask, and characterized it as a “payment plan”. Bujalski verbally confirmed on August 24th that she received written questions from the Guardian, but those questions remained unanswered at the time of publication on September 8.
City attorney Tom Trask also did not reply when asked if he in fact “fully vetted” the transaction, as Bujalski has claimed.
Notably, mayor Bujalski didn’t sign the “payment plan”, even though she was a party to the boat slip rental agreement that she entered into in March of 2012 together with her husband. Why the city would not make all parties sign the payment plan is unclear. City staff has also not answered questions about this matter.
A number of aspects about Bujalski’s special arrangement raise questions:
- No other boat slip renter has been allowed to establish a payment plan when they fell behind on their payments.
- In the e-mail referenced above to a city resident, Bujalski blamed that non-payment on difficult personal finances after an injury her husband sustained. Yet as shown below, Bujalski fell behind on her payments years before her husband’s injury.
- In that same e-mail, Bujalski agreed that “elected officials should be held to the same standard as our residents”. Yet the facts show that Bujalski and her husband were held to a different standard, and it was a lower standard.
- Also in that same e-mail, Bujalski put the boat slip rental in the same category as “our mortgage, groceries, and electric bill”.
The rental agreement Bujalski signed is clear: if the rental fee “is delinquent after 60 days from the 1st of the month (City Ordinance Section 86-77), the vessel may not occupy the slip”. However, the actual text of the city ordinance doesn’t mention a 60 day grace period. That ordinance says:
“….no person shall occupy or utilize any berth or slip until the rental has been paid, nor shall any person continue to use the berth or slip after the period has expired for which rent has been paid.”
Even if a 60-day grace period is applied, it is clear that already in 2012, Bujalski’s boat occupied the slip even after she was delinquent by more than 60 days. Bujalski’s delinquency was long before her husband’s injury, which she claimed was the reason why the payment were late to begin with.
Mayor Bujalski violated the rental agreement already in October 2012, the same year she entered into it. Yet when she did, city staff didn’t enforce the boat slip rental agreement, or the city ordinance.
Apparently, the City of Dunedin applies “rules for thee, but not for Julee” in the city marina…and adheres to the code of silence when questioned about the fragrant affair.
As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide.
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