Did Temple Terrace City Council violate rule by discussing contract that’s now under investigation?

8 On Your Side

TEMPLE TERRACE, Fla. (WFLA) – Temple Terrace’s city manager vowed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into a city contract, but he also claims the city council violated its own rule by discussing the allegations in public.

Charles Stephenson was implicated in a claim about a contract awarded to an unlicensed contractor hired to to convert four racquetball courts into a multi-purpose area at the Temple Terrace Family Recreation Center. The $16,000 contract is less than the threshold that requires city council approval, allowing the city manager to approve the bid without a vote.

Earlier this month, Councilmember Meredith Abel told council that an anonymous letter and documents she received alleged Stephenson falsified documents tied to the contract.

Stephenson, who denied any wrongdoing, declined a request for an interview but read a statement at the most recent council meeting.

“I am nonetheless pledging my cooperation with any investigation this council may decide on,” Stephenson said. “And when the facts of this matter are brought to light, I expect to be fully exonerated of the alleged wrongdoing referenced by the still unnamed complaint.”

Abel said the packet she received included documents with a licensed contractor’s name on it but she added the letter stated city employees claimed that company did not do any work on the project.

According to the letter Abel read, 383 Construction, which the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) indicates is not a licensed contractor, was paid for the project. No one answered the door at the address listed as the location for 383 Construction.

As the investigation into the contract continues, Stephenson made his own allegation.

“I was disappointed this body chose to violate the city rules of order and procedure by addressing an anonymous complaint,” Stephenson said.

He was referring to Rule 22 that states “unsigned or anonymous communications will not be introduced” at city council meetings.

Abel read the letter to put it on record during the first council meeting of the month, saying that decision was based on the recommendation by the city attorney. Stephenson bristled during that meeting and was about to talk until Mayor Andy Ross chimed in.

“Charles, Charles, be careful,” Ross said. “Please, just relax. Take a breath.”

Stephenson, whose 2018 contract shows a starting annual salary of $144,000, followed Ross’s advice and kept quiet, walking out of council chambers a short time later.

Ross has not said which agency is investigating, and officials with Temple Terrace police, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and DBPR said their offices are not looking into the matter. A spokesperson with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) said the agency does have an open investigation in Temple Terrace, but she said she could not confirm it involves the bid in question or the city manager.

An 8 On Your Side public records request in early August had revealed the existence of the investigation into the contract to change racquetball courts into a multi-purpose space for basketball and the fast growing sport of pickleball. The city responded to our inquiry with a note that stated, “investigation docs are exempt.”

At the first August meeting, Abel’s motion to place Stephenson on administrative leave with pay was seconded by Councilmember Cheri Donohue, but the motion failed three-to-two.

Abel said she cannot comment on the ongoing investigation.

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