TEMPLE TERRACE, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s been three months since city hall drama unfolded in Temple Terrace, implicating the city manager in anonymous claims about a contract to renovate the family recreational center.
But the agency conducting the investigation was kept secret by Mayor Andy Ross – until now.
City Manager Charles Stephenson walked away from the Aug. 3 council meeting after he was accused in a letter of official misconduct and falsifying documents for allegedly choosing an unlicensed contractor to build pickleball courts.
Stephenson predicted he would be “fully exonerated” when the investigation is completed.
After several inquiries from 8 On Your Side and others, Ross finally answered a basic question about the investigation, launched sometime during the past 12 weeks.
“The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is investigating the alleged wrongdoing reported to the city council on August 3,” Ross said in an emailed statement. “I have no update on the progress of that investigation and do not know when it will be concluded.”
FDLE spokesperson Gretl Plessinger said in August that the agency was not investigating the case. She has not responded to a request for an update on that.
A records request reveals that a short time after the August meeting, the case was discussed through city emails. One message sent from the city attorney to the entire council the day after the meeting advised the council members to “not disseminate the documents that were provided.”
In an email to Ross, a constituent insisted, “making it go away quietly will not fly.”
“There is no attempt by me, or anybody else, to make anything go away quietly,” Ross wrote in a response. “Under Florida statutes, information is confidential while an official investigation is active.”
But Ross would not tell the constituent what agency was investigating, claiming he was “not able to provide [them] with any information at this time, including who is doing the investigation.”
In his Monday afternoon statement, Ross said he will “fully inform the public of all findings” from the FDLE investigation.
According to the information provided to the council, licensed contractor DWJ Development Inc. was listed as the contractor for $16,000 project on a city document, but 383 Construction LLC was the company that was paid. 383 Construction is not a licensed contractor, according to the letter and a search on the Florida Department of Business and Profession Regulations.
Neither DWJ Development nor 383 Construction have responded to requests for comment.
Stephenson was accused of putting his name as the contractor in the notice of commencement, the letter stated. An notice of commencement indicates when a project starts and includes information about who is involved in a construction project.
Moreno Industrial Services, another contractor mentioned in the letter, was said to be one of the licensed contractors who bid on the job but didn’t get it.
A Moreno employee said the city asked the company to make a bid but she did not recall what the bid was. She recalled that she knew it would be high because the company was asked to “piggyback” the pickleball contract bid to an existing municipal contract.
She said the reason she knew her bid would be higher is based on the fact the concrete cost in the other contract was higher than the potential price for the pickleball project that called for a greater volume of material.
Stephenson fired a legal flare of his own in August, accusing the council of violating city rules of order by releasing anonymous claims at a public meeting.