The DeBary City Council has scheduled a hearing Wednesday, Aug. 5, to determine if one of its members should be removed from office.
Council Member Stephen Bacon is accused of violating the city charter by ordering a city staff member, City Clerk Annette Hatch, to alter the meeting minutes of the City Council’s May 20 meeting.
Allegedly, Bacon asked that Hatch include in the minutes some material he had cited during the meeting. Bacon’s demand and Hatch’s refusal resulted in a dispute after the meeting. Bacon denies any wrongdoing, and said he will be ready for the hearing.
“No one gave me a chance to state my position. I did not give her an order. I answered a question,” he told The Beacon. “It got out of hand. It was mishandled.”
DeBary’s charter calls for a strict separation of powers, with the city manager in charge of employees, and members of the City Council forbidden to direct those employees or to interfere in day to day operations.
The City Council is supposed to be a legislative and policy-making body, while the manager heads the administrative branch.
The charter also provides that violation of that separation of powers may result in expulsion from the City Council.
Bacon’s hearing is also required by the city charter. It is a political trial that may end in the accused member’s removal from office or an acquittal.
The City Council will sit as a tribunal, listen to legal arguments, weigh the evidence, and vote on the charge or charges. If a majority finds Bacon guilty, the City Council will vote on the penalty.
Violating the city’s charter is not a criminal or civil wrong, and if found guilty, Bacon will not lose any civil or political rights.
Bacon is a candidate for re-election in the Tuesday, Nov. 3, election, and removal from the City Council — if it happens — will not interfere with that.
The hearing on Bacon’s alleged misstep was first set for July 1, but he requested a delay, telling the council he had not had time to find a lawyer.
“You will be granted the opportunity to present what you have,” City Attorney Giffin Chumley told Bacon.
Concern about due process prompted the council to postpone until Aug. 5.
Bacon says he has hired an attorney to argue his case, while the City of DeBary has hired Drew Smith, a Maitland lawyer, to represent Hatch and the city government in the hearing. Smith said he would act in the hearing “from a prosecutorial standpoint.”
Smith also represented the DeBary administration during former Mayor Clint Johnson’s forfeiture hearing In 2016. That process ended in Johnson’s ouster.
Johnson had similarly been accused of giving orders to administrative personnel, and after his removal, he sued the city to be reinstated as mayor, but lost in the circuit and appellate courts.
Bacon expressed confidence about the upcoming hearing.
“I expect to be exonerated,” he said.
This is not Bacon’s first run-in with the DeBary’s city staffers. In 2018, Finance Director Liz Bauer and Records Manager Eric Frankton said Bacon had improperly approached them.
Bauer said he had made her feel uncomfortable and asked questions about religion, and Frankton said Bacon had asked him to examine a computer that was not city-owned equipment.
The City Council’s forfeiture hearing begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5, at the DeBary City Hall, 16 Colomba Road.
The meeting is open to the public, but because of social-distancing limitations, the audience may watch the hearing in the Florence K. Little Town Hall, located next door. The meeting will also be live streamed on the city government’s web site, www.debary.org.