By Marc Crail Mount Dora District 4 Council Representative I've selected some discussion and action items from our 6/15 Mount Dora City Council meeting to fill you in on. As always, please keep in mind that I report to you not on behalf of Mount Dora City Council as a whole but only as an individual member.
In our audience this evening were the 15 members of this year's Mount Dora Youth Leadership Group. These young leaders are all students at Mount Dora High School who were specially chosen to participate in this summer learning opportunity. They have already spent time with our fire department, police department and conducted a simulated city council meeting. Over the upcoming days they will continue to learn about our city government. Due to the pandemic this program didn't happen last year but it was great to meet and talk with these outstanding young leaders.
With lots of new homes being built and new businesses being permitted along with renovation projects the City is in dire need of additional building and plans inspectors. The qualifications for these jobs are stringent and we are looking to add 2 positions immediately and possibly more later. Adding these new jobs won't impact the city's general fund budget. These salaries will be paid by permit and building fees.
If you prefer to watch and listen to City Council meetings from your home you can anticipate improvements in the video and audio technology. There will also be better audio visual equipment for those attending meetings in person. Those improvements should be completed in about 3-4 months.
You've probably experienced very loud engine noise, blaring music, etc. coming from cars and other vehicles around town. We approved the first reading of a new excessive noise ordinance. When this is finalized we hope that our police officers will have more tools to issue warnings and significant fines for vehicle noise ordinance abusers.
Two items of particular interest to residents of The Lakes of Mount Dora neighborhood are the preliminary approval for plating 66 new homes in Phase 5B in the south-west corner of the development where the newly paved streets are located AND at long last we received word from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) just today that a traffic light for the main entrance to LoMD at S.R. 44 has been "warranted". I don't have many details right now and there hasn't even been time to notify Medallion Home management about the warrant yet. It is the Developer's responsibility to pay for the design and installation. Rest assured that as details about the timeline for design and construction get fleshed out I will be sure to let you know. Please keep in mind that we will need to be patient because things usually happen slower that any of us would like. Getting the FDOT Warrant is certainly a positive development, but don't hold your breath. Keep being vigilant when entering or exiting the neighborhood because there have been several accidents already and we want you to stay safe.
I came across the following post on the internet. It was posted by Romulo Vinhaes who may also be the author. "Wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it. Right is right even if no one is doing it."
Thank you for your interest in our wonderful town. Marc Crail Mount Dora District 4 Council Representative
Mount Dora Police Department appears to be getting back on track after years of internal turmoil. Yet the alleged actions of former City Manager Robin Hayes and embattled former Police Chief Robert Bell have left the City with continuing legal issues.
Last week Mount Dora City Council unanimously agreed to a $260,000 settlement with former Mount Dora Deputy Police Chief Michael Fewless after he filed suit under (Download the documents here) The whistleblower issue began on June 23 when Fewless advised then-City Manager Robin Hayes that MDPD’s Command Staff cast a “Vote of No Confidence” regarding Chief Robert Bell’s leadership and the group claimed their rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act and requested a meeting with Hayes.
Three days later, Fewless, along with two captains, filed a written whistleblower’s complaint that included approximately 25 pages with a myriad of charges of alleged misconduct against Bell, including a hostile work environment, ethics violations, favoritism, and lack of truthfulness. There had also been long-running, but unproven, allegations within MDPD and the community that Bell was having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a subordinate officer. The complaint stated officers were threatened with lawsuits by Bell if they discussed the relationship. However, once deposed under oath, Bell, who is married, admitted to the relationship. (Read the case depositions here)
“The City of Mount Dora and its city manager didn’t want these whistleblowers’ complaints to reach the public. They have no one to blame but themselves when all of the misdeeds at City Hall are now exposed,” said Fewless’ attorney Ryan J. Andrews at the time his petition was filed last year.
According to Hayes’ deposition in the case, she launched an investigation into Bell’s conduct and confronted him which resulted in his retirement.
Then on July 2, Hayes met with five MDPD Command Staff whistleblowers, to discuss the issues in their complaint. The group, including Fewless, was advised of Bell’s decision to retire. They agreed to terms of how the situation would be handled in the interim by all parties. Two weeks later, on July 17, the Command Staff was dissatisfied with the City’s subsequent handling of the complaint after Bell allegedly violated the agreement and the whistleblowers felt retaliation against them was imminent. In an email to Hayes, the Command Staff reinstated their claim to Whistleblower Protection and rescinded the previous agreement from the July 2 meeting.
Four days later, Fewless would find himself out of a job for allegedly violating a City media policy on July 17 when Fewless met with a reporter inside MDPD to listen to her unrelated complaint about how she was treated at a crime scene.
After his termination, Fewless filed the lawsuit. The $260,000 settlement will be paid by the City’s insurance company with the exception of the $5,000 deductible. As part of the settlement, Fewless termination was also changed to a mutual separation.
The next lawsuit against the City involving former Police Chief Bell is another violation of Florida’s Whistleblower Act brought by former MDPD Corporal Jessica Howell. The lawsuit was filed in March of last year and the depositions are expected to yield additional facts from more individuals.
Until recently, it has been hard to remember a time when MDPD was scandal-free. Prior to Police Chief Brett Meade taking the reins last July, the toxic division and alleged misdeeds within the department boiled over into the public’s full view. Meade, who is well liked within the department and community, came onboard as the Interim Chief last July and was later named Chief in April. Meade and Deputy Chief Al Rollins have been making positive strides in changing the culture and morale at the department.
By Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative
I've chosen several items from our June 1, City Council meeting agenda to report on this evening. I ask you to keep in mind that what follows comes from me as an individual city council member, not on behalf of City Council as a whole.
June is "Pride Month", the mayor read a proclamation acknowledging LGBTQIA+ Pride and stressing that Mount Dora is a welcoming city that supports diversity.
District 2 Council Member, Cal Rolfson and recently retired City Clerk, Gwen Johns were recognized for their efforts to promote "Home Rule" in Florida which continues to be eroded by our State Legislature.
We approved a Settlement Agreement and General Release to resolve a Federal Lawsuit brought by a former Mount Dora Police Department employee who according to the agreement, "voluntarily separated" last year. The plaintiff will receive $260,000. from our insurance company. The cost to the city is the $5,000. deductible. This settlement will prevent the case from being tried in Federal Court and was recommended by our attorney and our insurance carrier.
By a vote of 2 - 5 (Doug Bryant and I were in the minority) City Council rejected a $400,000. Land & Water Conservation Matching Grant that would have been used to help construct a pickelball complex at Lincoln Park. I felt strongly that a compromise could be reached to allay concerns about the precise location of the proposed pickelball courts but the majority voted not to move forward.
I've read some excellent quotes over the Memorial Day weekend regarding the sacrifices of our military but this one by President Harry Truman really touched me. "Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of their country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices."
By Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its 2021 outlook and it spells out a rather hectic hurricane season. NOAA’s recent prediction called for a 70% chance of having between thirteen and twenty named storms with six to ten of those reaching hurricane status. NOAA’s 2021 outlook is similar to last year’s, which turned out to be the busiest hurricane season on record with a whopping 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes. In 2020, 11 tropical storms and hurricanes made landfall in the U.S., including five which pummeled Louisiana.
Florida residents can stock up on hurricane supplies and save on essentials for storm preparedness like batteries, flashlights and ice chests during the state’s 10-day sales tax holiday extending from May 28 to June 6. Here’s the list of sale tax-exempt items and their caps:
Reusable ice, $20 or less Portable self-powered light source, $40 or less Certain portable radios, $50 or less A gas or diesel fuel tank, $50 or less Packages of certain battery types, $50 or less A non-electric food storage cooler, ice chests $60 or less Portable power banks, $60 or less Tarps, $100 or less Ground anchor systems or tie-down kits, $100 or less Portable generators for use in a power outage, $1,000 or less