DEBARY, Fla. — City Council member Stephen Bacon is fighting for his political future on two fronts: His elected colleagues may remove him from office as soon as next month, and two challengers have announced campaigns to unseat him this fall.
- DeBary's Stephen Bacon faces removal-from-office hearing
- Council member accused of giving hostile order to city clerk
- City manager deactivates Bacon's key fob to DeBary City Hall
The latest blow for the first-term council member came Wednesday night when the City Council voted 4-1, with Bacon dissenting, to hold a hearing as soon as July 1 to decide whether he broke the city charter by reportedly giving an order to the city clerk.
Council members in DeBary, a city of roughly 21,000 in southwest Volusia County, are only supposed to give orders as a collegial body to two employees: The city manager and attorney.
Council members can be ejected from office for charter violations. A different group of council members removed the mayor nearly four years ago.
“I believe I have conclusive evidence to clear me of this charge,” Bacon told Spectrum News in an email Friday.
He also asked Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody to intervene on his behalf in hopes of getting a “protective order” from his own city.
At issue is Bacon’s reportedly explosive interaction with City Clerk Annette Hatch on May 20 right after a City Council meeting. Bacon wanted her to include a written statement in the official records of what he had just read aloud a few minutes earlier.
Hatch told him it wasn’t necessary because meetings are recorded. Hatch, two other staff witnesses and some council members said Bacon got angry and said something about Hatch should just do her job and include his written statement in the minutes.
Mayor Karen Chasez recalls wrapping up post-meeting paperwork at the dais when Bacon raised his voice at the clerk.
“I would say loud, highly emotional,” Chasez said Wednesday, describing Bacon’s tone. “I would say [it was] an angry statement from council member Bacon directed toward the city clerk that said, ‘You need to do your job.’ That’s what I heard.”
The DeBary City Council may have a rare legal advantage if Bacon decides to fight his removal.
He and four other council members approved a resolution in January 2019 that specifically states Bacon could be disciplined and removed from office if the city confirms “incidents involving inappropriate interaction between” Bacon and city staffers.
That resolution was prompted by allegations Bacon denies that he sexually harassed DeBary’s female finance director in February 2017, less than two months after taking office. His term expires in December 2020.
Bacon allegedly made comments about her youthful appearance and asked about her religious beliefs, saying he had read a newspaper article about how kidnapped women — even married ones — become the property of their captors under ISIS-enforced Sharia law.
Bacon denied any wrongdoing, saying the finance director hated him and misconstrued what was intended as just an innocent comment about something he read in the paper.
The director complained to the previous city manager and Bacon, through an agreement worked through City Attorney Kurt Ardaman, wasn’t supposed to have contact with her again. The director alleges Bacon violated that agreement in November 2018 when he approached her during a meeting break to discuss budgeting strategies.
On Wednesday, some DeBary City Council members made references to the January 2019 resolution.
“Just based on history, it’s obviously a repeat offender,” said Council Member Phyllis Butlien. “Three strikes, you’re out.”
City Council Member Patricia Stevenson said she also was concerned about the “escalated voices” she heard after the May 20 meeting.
“This is difficult because this is not the first time,” Stevenson said. “A year ago, there was a resolution to limit involvement but as Council Member Butlien said we should already know our roles and that entire incident could have been avoided if Council Member Bacon had given his notes directly to the city manager.”
City Manager Carmen Rosamonda said he was obligated to investigate because the clerk filed a complaint Bacon.
He interviewed the witnesses and determined Bacon’s “statements about the ‘need to do her job’” constituted a demand, his report says.
Rosamonda also said Bacon is creating a hostile work environment at City Hall.
The manager deactivated Bacon’s all-access key fob to City Hall, saying Bacon is now only allowed in areas accessible by the general public, mainly a first-floor hallway, bathrooms and the City Council chambers.
As they scheduled the July 1 hearing for Bacon’s removal, council members said they would be willing to push it back if he needed more time to prepare.
Bacon is allowed to have his own attorney defend him during the hearing. Ardaman will represent the other four City Council members. An outside attorney will likely be used to represent city staffers.
Council members will consider evidence from both sides and call witnesses to testify if they choose. A similar process was used before removing then Mayor Clint Johnson in August 2016,
A different group of council members accused Johnson of giving orders to then-City Manager Dan Parrott. The council alleged Johnson violated the charter eight times and removed him.
Johnson appealed. A judge upheld one violation, saying an email to Parrott telling him to stop a meeting constituted a prohibited order to a staffer.
“Cancel this ridiculous meeting and quit trying to burn this city before you leave,” Johnson’s email said.
Johnson didn’t use the words “please” or “request” as he did in other messages to staffers, the judge noted.