This story brought to you for free by:

STILL NOT MAYOR: Circuit judge rules against Clint Johnson, but quashes seven out of eight counts in DeBary’s case against him

Removal hearing — Clint Johnson listens in August 2016 as his colleagues on the DeBary City Council decide to remove him as mayor. They said he violated the charter by giving orders to city employees.

Removal hearing — Clint Johnson listens in August 2016 as his colleagues on the DeBary City Council decide to remove him as mayor. They said he violated the charter by giving orders to city employees.

BEACON FILE PHOTO

Elected in 2014 and sworn in in early 2015, Clint Johnson is ready to go as DeBary’s mayor.

Elected in 2014 and sworn in in early 2015, Clint Johnson is ready to go as DeBary’s mayor.

BEACON FILE PHOTO

READ THE BEACON'S OPINION ON THE DeBARY DEBACLE HERE

Johnson’s attorney: We will appeal the ruling

More than a month after lawyers argued over Clint Johnson’s suit to be reinstated as mayor of DeBary, a judge has handed down his decision.

Circuit Judge Randell Rowe ruled against Johnson, but he also rebuked the DeBary City Council for most of its votes to oust Johnson for allegedly violating the city’s charter.

The court ruling may not be the end of the matter, as Johnson’s attorney, Doug Daniels, said.

“I think we’ll just go ahead and file the appeal and move on,” Daniels said.

Johnson himself said the drawn-out process of fighting for his elected office has been stressful.

“If I didn’t have so many other projects underway, it would have been overwhelming. Just gotta leave it all with God and keep moving,” Johnson said.

The DeBary City Council voted Aug. 24 to remove Johnson on eight charges of ordering or directing city administrative staffers, breaching the charter’s separation of powers that bars the elected officials from involving themselves in the administrative affairs of the city.

Rowe “quashed” most of those charges, involving four Twitter messages sent by Johnson and three emails. However, Rowe upheld one count, which concerned Johnson’s text message to then-City Manager Dan Parrott about a City Council meeting Parrott had called to discuss public records Johnson had been asked to turn over.

“Cancel this ridiculous meeting and quit trying to burn the city before you leave,” Johnson wrote to Parrott.

Rowe agreed with Johnson’s attorney in part, noting that the text seemed as much a rant as an actual order, but Rowe said he had no basis to overrule the City Council on the point.

DeBary City Attorney Kurt Ardaman hailed Rowe’s ruling as a victory.

“The council has to follow the process in the charter that the voters have approved of,” the city attorney said in a telephone interview.

Johnson’s attorney, Doug Daniels, was also generally pleased.

“I think the way he wrote the ruling, he agreed with us that that was not an order,” Daniels told The Beacon. “When we do the appeal — and it seems Judge Rowe felt whichever way he ruled, it would go to appeal — we will show Judge Rowe seemed to agree with us on the eighth issue, but he felt he had to defer to the DeBary City Council. He did not have to defer.”

Had the judge determined Johnson’s April 20 text was a rant and not an order, Daniels noted, his client would be back in elected office.

“If he had quashed all of the issues, that would have had the effect of putting Clint back as mayor,” Daniels said.

The next stop, Daniels said, is the 5th District Court of Appeal. There, he said, Johnson “will certainly get the change” in the ruling that will restore him as mayor.

“If Clint Johnson wants to appeal, he can do that,” Ardaman said.

Stay tuned.

- Al Everson, al@beacononlinenews.com


What Johnson tweeted

May 23, 2016: DeBary records manager Eric Frankton should be standing up to Dan Parrott, not taking bad unethical direction. They both need to leave now.

May 24, 2016: The refusal to stop SaveGemini land deal is from TOD Director Roger VanAuker’s arrogance. He was wrong, wasted tax $, and should be fired!

May 31, 2016: The embarrassingly stupid culmination of an entire year of exposing city hall corruption. Dan, Roger & Eric must go!

June 6, 2016: Again, huckster Roger Van Auker needs to go! Time to close this ugly chapter on DeBary history & work forward.

(All four tweets were cited in the city’s case to oust Johnson as mayor.)

What the judge said

“In these four Twitter posts the [City of DeBary] apparently interpreted the words ‘leave now,’ ‘should be fired,’ ‘must go,’ and ‘needs to go’ as Johnson’s attempt to ‘dictate’ the removal of an employee in violation of Charter Section 4.04(a) …

“Clearly, there is no evidence in the record that Johnson’s Twitter posts dictated the firing of any employee by way of issuance of an order to any person, and this point was conceded by the city’s attorney at the hearing …

“The Court finds that there is no competent substantial evidence in the record to support the city council’s findings that Johnson’s Twitter comments constituted a charter violation … Therefore, the city council’s decision that Johnson’s four subject Twitter posts violated the charter must be quashed.”


TIMELINE OF JOHNSON’S FALL

Fall 2015 — Relations between Mayor Clint Johnson and fellow members of the DeBary City Council deteriorate, as Johnson refuses to remove the Mayor’s Mailbox from a shopping center and posts controversial comments on social media.

Oct. 7, 2015 — The City Council votes 3-1 to request Johnson move the Mayor’s Mailbox to City Hall.

Dec. 2, 2015 — The DeBary City Council votes unanimously to express “no confidence” in Johnson; Johnson votes with his colleagues in a show of solidarity.

March 2016 — Johnson announces plans for a raft trip from Cuba to Florida, similar to the journeys made by Cubans fleeing the Communist island.

Winter/Early Spring 2016 — Controversy erupts over Johnson’s refusal to hand over social-media postings his colleagues deem to be public records.

April 6, 2016 — The DeBary City Council sets a special meeting for May 11 to review public-records concerns.

April 20, 2016 — City Manager Dan Parrott calls a special meeting of the City Council to discuss the documents issue. Johnson fires off an angry message to Parrott demanding he “cancel this ridiculous meeting” and “quit trying to burn the city down before you leave.” Johnson’s critics use the message as proof of his ordering the manager to do something, in violation of the charter. Johnson says he was upset because Parrott knew he would be out of town at the time of the meeting.

May 4, 2016 — The City Council votes to set a forfeiture hearing for June 1 to determine if Johnson violated the charter and therefore should be removed from office.   

May 26, 2016 — Circuit Judge Sandra Upchurch rules against Johnson’s suit against the City Council to head off the forfeiture hearing set for June 1, clearing the way for the rare process to unfold.

June 15, 2016 — The City Council tables the forfeiture hearing until Aug. 17.

July 6, 2016 — City Council Member Rick Dwyer calls for a suspension of further action against Mayor Johnson, but his motion dies for lack of a second.

Aug. 24, 2016 — A forfeiture hearing lasting almost six hours takes place in the Florence K. Little Town Hall, next door to the DeBary CIty Hall, because of the large crowd of spectators in attendance. The forfeiture hearing was a political trial, not a legal or civil proceeding. The votes had the immediate effect of removing Johnson from office, and Vice Mayor Lita Handy-Peters became interim mayor.

Aug. 29, 2016 — The DeBary CIty Council convenes a special meeting to discuss setting the election of a mayor to fill Johnson’s unexpired term. The council later set the special election for Jan. 17, 2017.

Sept. 27, 2016 — Johnson files a lawsuit against the City of DeBary, alleging the City Council’s action to remove him was illegal. Daniels asked the Circuit Court to reinstate his client as the lawful mayor.

Jan. 17, 2017 — DeBaryites go to the polls and elect former Mayor Robert Garcia to replace Johnson. Garcia received a decisive majority of votes in a three-man race.

April 4, 2017 — Circuit Judge Randell Rowe convenes a hearing on Johnson’s suit.

May 15, 2017 — Judge Rowe releases his ruling, in effect voiding seven of the eight votes by the City Council to remove Johnson as mayor. The eighth charge, involving Johnson’s message to Parrott about canceling the April 20 meeting, was upheld.

May 16, 2017 — Daniels vows to appeal Rowe’s decision to the 5th District Court of Appeal.


Excerpted from a statement posted by former DeBary Mayor Clint Johnson on his website shortly after the ruling came out:

“Although the court agreed that this simple text was a rant made from reasonable frustration and not a malicious dictate, his final opinion was that the technical restraints of his review prevented him from quashing this 8th and final accusation.

“There are many documented instances of communication between other Council Members and the City Manager that were far more commanding than my text and actually executed upon by the City Manager.

"Clearly the decision to consider mine so differently was little more than a personal act of retribution stemming from my exposing of many shady actions including the Gemini Springs 100 Acre Land Grab and Sunshine Law Violations sparking a raid on City Hall by the State Attorney.

“While just short of a complete reversal of the removal, I appreciate the thorough deliberation and clearly written response by the court which has firmly vindicated me from wrongdoing.

“My lawyer and I are prepared to appeal this opinion to entirely ensure that future elected officials in the City of DeBary are safe from similar petty, political, and inconsistent attacks from an appointed manager that disrespected thousands of votes by the citizens in choosing their leaders, especially those who fight to bring change”

-- Timeline compiled by Al Everson; court-file excerpts by Anthony DeFeo.

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)