TEMPLE TERRACE, Fla. (WFLA) — A lawsuit filed by Temple Terrace’s longtime, now former, City Manager outlines months of turmoil that started with anonymous claims about bid-rigging allegations disclosed at a council meeting.
Charles Stephenson filed the lawsuit Friday, asking for a jury trial about claims he was wrongfully terminated, claiming he has not received his contractual 20 weeks of salary as severance pay. Court documents indicate Stephenson is seeking an additional $100,000 in damages.
When it went to bid about 18 months ago, the project central to the drama seemed simple enough. Turn existing racquetball courts into a space for pickleball.
Since it was priced under $25,000, Stephenson could approve the bid without a vote by the city council.
In August, months after the concrete had set, Councilmember Meredith Abel read a letter aloud that stated “falsified documents” were used “to conceal that an unlicensed contractor was illegally chosen over a licensed one” for the project.
Stephenson was accused by the tipster. At the end of Abel’s presentation, he stood up to speak, but was warned by Mayor Andy Ross.
“Charles, Charles,” Ross said. “Be careful.”
Stephenson heeded Ross’ advice, then left the meeting.
The tension between the City Manager and the council continued, boiling over at a late October special meeting about a personnel matter.
“Don’t interrupt me,” Ross said to Stephenson at one point.
Then, in late January, Community Development Director Amir Anisi was arrested for rigging a bid on the pickleball project.
Two days later, Stephenson’s 18-year run as City Manager ended.
“The bottom line here is I don’t trust Mr. Stephenson,” Abel said.
Stephenson now wants a civil court jury to hear his side of the drama. Among his claims, Ross misused his powers as Mayor when he asked him about personnel matters and when he took the lead in the pickleball project investigation.
Stephenson also reiterates a complaint he made after the August meeting. He claims the council violated the city charter by reading allegations from an anonymous source at a public meeting.
“The information read into public record was intended to destroy plaintiff’s reputation,” his complaint states.
Late Friday afternoon, Ross said he could not comment because he had not reviewed the complaint. Stephenson’s attorney has not responded to a request for comment.