A local citizen journalist claims that Seminole mayor Leslie Waters tried to remove him from city public meetings. In a written statement submitted to the city, a city firefighter seems to back up the journalist’s story. And the mayor denies all of it.
Steve Hirschfield, citizen journalist and owner of the local news website IonTB.com, filed a complaint with the city alleging that Waters harassed and threatened him at an October 16th Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program meeting. Hirschfield says that Waters was “very angry and demanded to know” why he attended city meetings.
City attorney Jay Daigneault told city council in a memo that even if Hirschfield’s allegations are true, “they are without legal consequence to the City.” However, Waters’ action may not be without legal consequence to Waters. Hirschfield told the Guardian that he has spoken to a prominent media lawyer about this incident.
Daigneault’s memo also makes no mention of a written statement submitted to the city by Seminole firefighter Brad Dykens the day before Daigneault’s memo. Dykens alleges that Waters asked him before the CERT meeting to “do something about” Hirschfield’s attendance at the meeting and that Hirschfield “should not be there” because he “is not a resident of Seminole.”
Dykens titled his statement “Documentation of Mayor Waters discussion” and did not say if he was asked to submit his statement (and if so, by whom).
Dykens stated he believed that the conversation “was not proper” and that he told Waters he “did not feel comfortable” with what she was asking of him. Waters allegedly also told Dykens to not inform fire chief Heather Burford about it when Dykens said he wanted to do so.
Dykens is the Life Safety and Preparedness Coordinator for Seminole Fire Rescue. He is a former first responder instructor at SPC who started working for Seminole after 26 years at St. Petersburg Fire Rescue, from where he left in 2010 as a lieutenant. Dykens’ LinkedIn profile contains further details.
Hirschfield holds 11 CERT certifications, has been a Seminole CERT member for over 3 years, has worked 6 years in Auxiliary communications for Pinellas County government, and is a former Field Training Officer for Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Citizens Patrol.
Hirschfield is a clinical pharmacist who according to his LinkedIn profile has worked 14 years for Baycare Homecare. Prior to that, he was a pharmacy manager at a Publix store for 5 years. Hirschfield says his income comes from his “day job” and that he makes no money from IonTB.com.
Hirschfield also alleges that Waters told him he had “no business placing public records request with the city.” The Florida Constitution gives any person, resident or not, the right to attend meetings and the right to public records.
This incident comes on the heels of two Seminole firefighters being reprimanded by city manager Ann Toney-Deal earlier this month. The firefighters were video recorded at Lake Seminole Park with a fire truck while not on call at the same time as city council candidate Kelly Wissing was preparing for a political event. The firefighters’ union has endorsed Wissing in the election that takes place on November 6th.
The firefighter incident is not the first complaint involving use of public resources for campaign purposes. In 2012, invitations to a campaign event for mayor Waters and others were being circulated in city hall. Such action clearly violates Florida Statutes 104.31(2), which forbids municipal employees from participating “in any political campaign for an elective office while on duty.”
We e-mailed the substantive portions of Dykens’ statement to Waters, without mentioning the statement itself. Waters denied all of the statements.
“The City of Seminole is in the middle of Fire Union contract negotiations and City elections,” Waters added. “This is a very serious time for the City. So, respectfully, I have decided it would not be prudent to discuss this issue further until the election is over and the union contract is signed.”
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