At the Winter Garden City Commission meeting Thursday, Jan. 11, commissioners voted to hold a workshop to clarify the way forward for a possible forfeiture hearing involving Commissioner Ron Mueller.
The workshop will take place at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 18, at City Hall.
City Attorney Kurt A. Ardaman said it is up to the commission to decide if it wants to wait for Mueller to obtain counsel, as well as other proceedings relating to the hearing.
As he did at the December meeting, Mueller reiterated due process is being violated because he has not yet retained counsel.
“You haven’t gotten an attorney yet?” Bennett asked. “It’s been what, three months?”
Commissioner Mark A. Maciel said he wouldn’t be prepared to move forward with the hearing if Mueller was not represented.
“I don’t think it would be fair to Ron, and I think whatever we came up with could be questioned if he wasn’t represented,” Maciel said.
“So, do we put a timeline on that, because the allegations happened during his tenure of office, and there’s no guarantee who’s going to hold the office … after the election time?” Bennett said. “I feel like it needs to be addressed during this term. It shouldn’t be open-ended.”
Maciel agreed with Bennett but didn’t see how the hearing would be resolved — especially before the March election.
Ardaman said if the commission wishes to proceed with the hearing, he suggests doing it during the current term.
“I don’t have someone to guide me on what to say, or what’s appropriate here … ” Mueller said. “It certainly has cost us a ton of money for Commissioner Bennett’s personal agenda here, which is just a huge waste of taxpayer time and money. … It’s embarrassing us to no end as a city.”
Mayor John Rees said there was a “tremendous” amount of emails the commission has combed through regarding Mueller’s potential Sunshine Law violations.
“If all five of us sent that to our staff, we’d have to have three extra people just to go through emails, and a lot of them were sent to different department heads copied to our city manager, vice versa, which … you really shouldn’t be doing,” he said. “You go through the city manager, and what I hang a hat back on is, I’m going to say it was probably May 2022 … our city manager sent an email saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got to send everything through me.’ And from what I remember reading was, you know, you respectfully declined and continued on.”
Mueller believes if the city manager thought the conversations were a serious enough problem, he would have brought the topic before the commission.
Mueller made a motion to dismiss the hearing, but that died. Bennett then made a motion for the commission to schedule the hearing during Mueller’s current tenure so the matter could be resolved. But it didn’t receive a second vote.
A TURN OF EVENTS
Commissioner Colin Sharman believes the issue is larger than a singular commissioner.
“Whether it’s blatantly too far or not, that’s up to the legal arguments to be heard back and forth,” he said. “But this is a bigger issue than one commissioner; it’s how we move forward as a body of commissioners, how we act with the public, how we interact with staff.”
Rees suggested the city host a workshop to further discuss the matter. Sharman motioned to hold the workshop. Maciel seconded the motion before it passed unanimously.