Deltona City Commissioner Anita Bradford has confirmed that she has requested an outside probe of possible improper actions by Shang.
“I met with FDLE [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] last Friday,” Bradford told The Beacon.
Bradford said she asked state agents to investigate allegations against Shang, including “unlawful use of law enforcement, unlawful use of code enforcement, and her handling of some public-records requests.”
In general, FDLE, rather than local law-enforcement officials, is the investigating agency when municipal officials are involved.
FDLE spokeswoman Angela Starke said the agency is in the preliminary stages of looking into a Deltona-related complaint.
“We are doing a preliminary review of a complaint regarding Deltona, but we cannot disclose the nature of the allegations,” she said.
Complaints about Shang’s alleged actions against critics have become louder in recent weeks, reaching a boiling point at the City Commission’s Aug. 6 regular meeting, as speaker after speaker implored the governing body to fire Shang.
Over the past several months, Deltona residents have voiced discontent with rising water and sewer bills, a possible 30-percent increase in trash and garbage assessments, delays and fees for obtaining copies of public documents, and a perceived unwillingness on the part of elected and appointed city officials toward constituents and their concerns.
That feeling of alienation — us against them — has come to the fore at commission meetings and on social media for several months.
Two Deltona women, Pat Gibson and Brandy White, say their criticism of Shang resulted in retaliation. Gibson was issued a trespass warning from The Center at Deltona for videotaping at a Mother’s Day brunch May 13, after she requested to see the facility’s state restaurant-inspection reports and the alcoholic-beverage license. She said the trespass warning was served to her at her home several days later.
White is facing a possible charge of illegal recording of an incident with a city employee at City Hall, in connection with a public-records request.
In fact, several people who attended the meeting told of a cyber campaign to draw larger numbers of like-minded citizens to protest Shang’s administration. More than 100 people showed up, many holding signs calling for Shang’s termination.
At that Aug. 6 meeting, Bradford stopped short of asking for Shang’s dismissal, proposing instead that the FDLE conduct an investigation of the complaints of Shang’s abuse of power.
Bradford called for Shang “to be suspended, pending the outcome of the investigation.” Bradford’s colleagues would not support her motion, and it failed for lack of a second. The commission’s unwillingness to suspend Shang further fueled the anger of her detractors.
After that stormy session, Shang left the meeting chamber without commenting on the rancorous and rowdy chorus opposing her.
Bradford that evening hinted the FDLE could investigate, but there was no firm word of such a state probe. The Beacon Aug. 7 asked Deltona Public Information Director Lee Lopez — the only authorized source for official information within the city administration — if an investigation is under way and if anyone inside City Hall has been contacted or talked with outside investigators, as well as Shang’s response to the outpouring of public anger. The Beacon was present at Deltona City Hall Aug. 9 and asked to talk with Shang, but was informed she “is in a meeting.”
Shang’s response was slow in coming, reaching the newspaper later Aug. 9. The response included a two-page statement describing the litany of complaints as “differences of opinion that are not completely factual.”
Shang’s written response also highlighted the positive happenings within Deltona, notably the advent of new businesses, a home-construction boom, repaving of streets, and renewed attention to stormwater problems.
“As a reminder, there are two sides to every story,” Shang continued.
Her statement closed with an olive branch.
“I regret and apologize for the implication that I do not wish to work with the public. I am committed to finding a way to bridge our differences. I hope that we can agree that all citizens, including public employees, have basic rights that should be protected and respected,” Shang concluded.
With Shang’s e-mail statement was a ruling by the Florida Ethics Commission, clearing her of any wrongdoing in a 2016 case filed against her by then-Commissioner Brian Soukup.
Soukup resigned from the District 5 City Commission seat last year because of his frustration with Shang and his colleagues’ unwillingness to discuss her actions and management style.
Bradford could not say when the FDLE investigation of Shang’s governance may be completed.
For now at least, Shang is safe. To dismiss her, a supermajority, meaning at least five of the seven members of the City Commission, would have to vote for such a motion. She has become a campaign issue for a few of the candidates for the commission, as they have vowed to vote her out if they are elected in the upcoming election cycle.
Asked if he was aware of Bradford’s contact with the FDLE, Mayor John Masiarczyk expressed surprise, and denied any involvement or backing for her action.
“I don’t know anything about it. I haven’t heard anything officially,” he replied, when The Beacon asked him if had talked with any investigators.
“If she [Bradford] is doing it, she’s doing it on her own,” Masiarczyk added, regarding his junior colleague’s outreach to the state police agency.