EDITORIAL – the ethics complaints against the mayor and two city officials

Ethics complaints have been filed against Dunedin Mayor Julie Bujalski, the city Parks & Recreation Director Vincent Gizzi and former city Finance Director Joseph Ciurro. The original complaints were filed on December 20, 2016. Amended complaints were filed on February 1, 2017. Details and copies of the amended complaints can be found below.

NOTE: this appeared as an article until 5:55 P.M. on 2/1/2018. However, after reader comments, we decide to properly label it as an editorial.

In 2016, mayor Bujalski and her husband Tom were $2,874 in arrears on their boat slip fees in the city owned marina. Given that the monthly slip fee is $270 (including tax), Bujalski’s delinquency equaled over ten months of fees.

When the deadbeat duo was exposed in this article by the Tampa Bay Times, Bujalski gave us the same explanation that she had given the Times and city residents. The unspoken and disturbing premise in Bujalski’s narrative was and is that a boat slip is a necessity in her life. Like groceries. Or running water.

In March of 2017, DR was able to show that Bujalski lied when she claimed that the city attorney had “fully vetted” her loan with the city. That’s were we left this matter, always intending to one day file ethics complaints over mayor Bujalski’s special treatment by city staff.

Unbeknowst to DR, Dunedin resident and retired business owner Dave Pauley had taken exception to the mayor’s actions and filed an ethics complaint against Bujalski in November 2016.

After a shoddy investigation of the Pauley complaint (more on that later), Florida Commission on Ethics staff issued a so-called report of investigation (ROI). Based on the ROI, a so-called advocate’s recommendation (AR) was issued finding that there was no probable cause to believe that mayor Bujalski had violated any ethics laws. The AR was equally shoddy, misstating both the facts and the law.

However, the Ethics Commission accepted the recommendation in the AR.

We filed three ethics complaints on December 20, 2017 over how the mayor’s financial delinquency was handled by her, and by city staffers. The complaints were against mayor Bujalski, Parks & Recreation Director Vincent Gizzi and then Finance Director Joe Ciurro. Again: we didn’t know about Pauley’s ethics complaint against mayor Bujalski when we filed ours.

However, when we learned of Pauley’s complaint and examined the ROI and AR, we filed amended our complaints showing the obvious errors in fact and law in the ROI and the AR. Our complaints will hopefully shine a light on the rot in Dunedin city hall.

When this scandal first made the news in August of 2016, we noted that Bujalski was very selective in what personal information she released to the public…and what she didn’t release. The information she released was irrelevant and seemed mainly to be aimed at eliciting sympathy.

We also noted that paragraph 3 of the Buajlski’s boat slip agreement with the city made it clear what the process was for delinquent boat slip users. That process was not followed. The creation of Dunedin Reporter (DR) was in part inspired by the special treatment given mayor Bujalski.

The inherently corrupt act of a mayor using the city as an interest-free line of credit is bad enough. When city staff allow it, they also become ethically compromised. If that special treatment of the mayor is exposed, how will that look? City staff could be pressured into doing other things out of fear that they will be exposed. One deliberate ethical oversight often leads to many.

If city staff allow special favors for an elected official, are they doing it because they fear that elected official otherwise will work to get them fired? It’s an ethical mine field, full of opportunities for malfeasance and corruption, and therefore best avoided. In this case, neither Bujalski nor Dunedin officials elected to avoid that mine field.

By not adhering to the City Ordinance and the boat slip agreement, top city staff deprived another boater of a spot in the marina. There is a waiting list for the marina, so it’s not a minor matter. City officials also deprived the City and the taxpayers of a promptly paying customer, one that didn’t take require constant prodding  and coddling like the Bujalskis.

Instead, city officials intent of providing special favors for mayor Bujalski bent over. Backwards.

In 2013, mayor Bujalski was found guilty of ethics violations for failing to file financial disclosure forms for several years in a row. Also in that matter, Bujalski shared some personal information with the press, but not other personal information. Why she shared any at all raises questions.

In 2006, Bujalski was first elected to Dunedin City Council while running a campaign of deception. There is thus a history of questionable behavior.

Our amended complaints in the current matter were received by the Florida Commission on Ethics today. We provide links to our complaints below so that the public can assess the facts and the law for themselves. The key facts and circumstances are:

  • Mayor Julie Bujalski and her husband Tom entered into an agreement for use of the city boat slip in March 2012.
  •  Official records show that the Bujalski’s account with the city was chronically delinquent.
  • After harbormaster Frantz went on medical leave in July 2015, the Bujalskis only paid $300 during the next eleven (!) months.
  • It was during this time that their delinquency ballooned the most, from $248 to $2,577.
  • During this time period, they made no payments for almost 8 months.
  • This was also the longest time ever between payments on their account.
  • Did the Bujalskis decide to take advantage of the harbormaster’s absence by not paying? Our readers can decide for themselves.
  • When first told she was past due in 2013, mayor Bujalski told the harbormaster that her husband handled the bills and she would speak to him about their delinquent account with the city she is the mayor of.
  • Tom Bujalski then told the harbormaster to not contact his wife in the future “regarding any issues relating to their boat or their rental of the boat slip.”
  • Despite this clear directive, city Parks & Recreation director Vince Gizzi approached mayor Bujalski about the account in March of 2016, but only when the delinquency had ballooned to over $2,500.
  • The mayor asked if a payment plan could be “arranged.” She didn’t ask if such a program existed, she asked if one could be arranged.
  • Bujalski, Gizzi and others all told the Ethics Commission investigator that she asked if a payment plan could be arranged.
  • The “payment plan” was arranged in direct violation of paragraph 15 of the 2012 boat slip use agreement.
  • The city manager and other top city staff decided to not enforce this in-force 2012 agreement, and to not consult the city attorney.
  • All boat slip users sign the same agreement, so the agreement must have been known to these city staff.
  • No other slip user had ever been provided with a payment plan, much less one with zero interest.
  • Mayor Bujalski claimed in writing that the payment plan “fully vetted by our city attorney.” Her claim was untrue.
  • Gizzi expressed “surprise” that no delinquency notice had been sent to the Bujalskis, even though the boat slip use agreement expressly said that no such notice was required.
  • The remedy in the case of a serious delinquency was made clear in the agreement: remove your boat, or the city will do it for you and charge you for doing so.
  • Mayor Bujalski told the ethics investigator that she would “advise Gizzi about a plan to address the delinquency.”
  • However, the mayor has no authority to direct city staff in their daily work. Only the city manager can direct staff.
  • When the payment plan was entered into in July 2016, the Bujalskis had plead poverty.
  • When the Times uncovered their delinquency three weeks later, the Bujalskis immediately paid off the entire balance due.
  • Therefore, it appears that the Bujalskis were unwilling to pay. Not unable to pay for what is a non-essential service.
  • Gizzi knew that managing delinquencies was one of harbormaster Frantz’ duties, yet he made no arrangement to have another city employee take over this duty during Frantz’s medical leave.

There are demonstrable factual errors and misstatements of law in the adjudication of the Pauley ethics complaint. See the below complaints that we filed for further details on that point.

The story that Bujalski and others have told is one where the mayor was totally uninvolved for years with her own delinquent boat slip account. She only entered the picture to secure a special privilege for herself (the payment plan), and a special exemption (non-enforcement of contract). Simultaneously, three top city staff all somehow managed to forget to look at the in-force boat slip use agreement for guidance.

That story is not believable. That story is a lie. And that is why we have filed the below ethics complaints.

The thinking among the city staff involved in this scandal seems to have been that if no special treatment had been asked for by the Mayor, then none had been given. However, that’s not what the Florida law on “Misuse of Public Position” says.

None of the Dunedin city commissioners have criticized mayor Bujalski or city staff for their handling of this matter, which indicates that they don’t think there is anything to this matter. We disagree.

Julie Bujalski ethics complaint – Case #17-175
Vincent Gizzi ethics complaint – Case #17-176
Joe Ciurro ethics complaint – Case #17-177

Appendix 1, applies to all complaints
Appendix 2, applies to all complaints
Appendix 3, applies to all complaints
Appendix 4, applies to all complaints
Appendix 5, applies to all complaints
Appendix 6 to Bujalski complaint
Appendix 7 to Bujalski complaint
Appendix 6 to Ciurro complaint

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