March 21, 2013

Complaints against White Springs officials tossed out

March 21, 2013 Joyce Marie Taylor Suwannee Democrat

Jasper — At the March 12 meeting of the White Springs Town Council, Attorney Fred Koberlein addressed four different complaints from resident Joe Griffin.

Three of the complaints were received on Jan. 4. They were directed toward Town Manager Bob Farley, Vice Mayor Walter McKenzie and Councilman Dennis Price. The fourth complaint was received on Feb. 19, and was against Attorney Koberlein.

Koberlein advised the council they had three options: Review the complaints and take no action;  Review the complaints and launch an investigation; Refer the matter to the Commission on Ethics.

“I believe Mr. Griffin did mention that he would like time to present his side,” said Koberlein. “You can even have a special meeting to allow Mr. Griffin to go past the five-minute allotted time or you can hold the individual to that allotted time.”

The complaints against Farley and McKenzie have to do with a so called secretive “Camel Club” which is supposedly made up of town officials. Whether this secret Camel Club exists or not, is up to interpretation, but there is a sign in the center of town documenting it. Griffin’s Internet blog began in May, 2012 and his first mention of the Camel Club was May 29, 2012, although it seems the Camel Club News e-mails had been circulating at least six months prior.

Griffin stated in his complaints that the Camel Club’s sole purpose is to drive him out of town according to their individual writings.

The complaint against Farley states that he is “Super Camel” and has “violated Section VIII sub A of the town’s standard operating guidelines. Mr. Farley has not denied being a member of the Camel Club and Mr. Farley has used profanity and obscene language in dealing with this citizen and his bride.”

Farley had no response.

Griffin’s complaint against McKenzie also states that McKenzie has never denied being a member of the Camel Club.

“The Camel Club and all of its members have used profanity and obscene language in dealing with this citizen and his bride,” Griffin stated in the complaint against McKenzie.

In Griffin’s complaint against Councilman Price, he states that Price “in an e-mail, called me mean,” and that it was a violation of the town’s standard operating guidelines.

The complaint against Koberlein states that he “undertook the negotiation with Sterling King Collection Agency and is doing the negotiation in the darkness.” Griffin then referenced a section in the Sunshine Law manual about how to conduct public business. Griffin further stated on his complaint that a lawsuit is planned if the activity isn’t stopped immediately and that he wanted access to all negotiations between Koberlein and Sterling King.

Koberlein said the matter went back to 2006 when the town was trying to collect a past due debt owed by Griffin. He said he believed Griffin was referring to a conversation he had with the collection agency as to whether or not they would accept 50 percent of the amount due.

Koberlein went on to say that Griffin cited certain cases in his complaints and that he only copies certain portions of the Sunshine Laws as reference. Koberlein said the town, in their negotiations with Sterling King, committed no wrongdoing.

After Koberlein listed all the complaints, McKenzie said he didn’t want to feed the frenzy, but, “I do wish to state in front of the press and the public that I am not a member of the Camel Club. I have never been a member of the Camel Club. I do receive e-mails from the Camel Club. I have asked them in the past to take me off of their e-mail list. I’ve never contributed anything to the organization. I don’t know who’s in the organization, although that might be the subject of much conjecture. So, there’s your public denial.”

McKenzie said Griffin stated in his complaint that he and his wife Karin welcomed the opportunity to present their case to the council as a whole, sans McKenzie and Price, at any meeting so directed.

“If that should ever happen, I just want the public record (to say) that I have copies of all the e-mails that Joe has sent personally to my e-mail address,” McKenzie said. “I also have copies of Joe’s blog in which he has said things that I’m not going to characterize, but I will just read a couple to you and let Joe’s words speak for themselves.”

McKenzie read aloud some of Griffin’s e-mails, several of which contained profanity. One e-mail stated that Griffin’s purpose is to harangue the town and that he is good at it. Other statements were made against McKenzie’s character and that he was a pig farmer.

“How long do we have to sit back and listen to this kind of stuff, and the sending of this stuff to multiple citizens of White Springs, and then have a guy come up and tell us we’re the bad guys?” Mckenzie asked. “I’ll tell you that I’ve never said or done anything ugly or profane to Mr. Griffin or his wife and I never will, but his words can speak for themselves. If you sit in judgment of any of my actions, just use that evidence to consider the source of the complaint.”

McKenzie said Griffin reported him to the Florida Ethics Committee in the past for running a business without a license because he liked to listen to folk music at the Telford Hotel. A second time he reported him stating that he had the town’s amphitheater built so that he could realize personal gain by hosting concerts there.

“Well, the amphitheater was built when I was not on the council,” said McKenzie. “The activities that went on at the Telford were just a group of people that got together and liked to listen to music. The fellow that investigated it quickly saw that there was no substance for these allegations, just as there’s no substance in the allegations that are brought up here tonight.”

Councilman Price said he had no desire to have a meeting with Griffin.

“He attacked me personally and I’ve already e-mailed back to him and maybe I shouldn’t have been so harsh,” said Price.

Councilwoman Tonja Brown stated that when she first came on board as a council member, Griffin sent her flowers. She said she had them sent back and has not had any trouble from him since.

Mayor Helen Miller told the council that the complaints didn’t warrant any further investigation since everyone refuted the allegations. McKenzie made a motion that the council take no action on the complaints and Price seconded the motion. Brown also agreed that no action needed to be taken. Councilman Richard Marshall was absent.

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