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Date of Issue: March 01, 2007

BB department head draws ire of resident

Concerns have been aired regarding abuse of power by a department head in Bradenton Beach.

Stephanie Cenko said in a letter to the editor to The Islander newspaper that Bradenton Beach project manager Lisa Marie Phillips called to her while she was standing near Anna Maria Sound near the city pier last month. Cenko said that Phillips asked why she was standing in the "riff-raff" and then asked her to be sure to properly dispose of a soda can she had in her hand.

"This woman had no right as a city employee to interrupt my solitude at the bay to demean, degrade and upset me while I’m minding my own business," Cenko wrote. "The police don’t even do that. I’ve lived in this area on and off for over 11 years. I do not drink, smoke or do drugs. I am working on my master’s of fine arts degree in poetry at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky. I am a graduate of University of South Florida in Sarasota."

Both Phillips and Mayor John Chappie declined to comment on the incident.

"This woman violated my civil rights by approaching and insulting me," Cenko continued in her letter. "I have not seen her job description; however, I’m certain that harassing the public is not part of her job.

"She obviously despises the ‘riff-raff’ on the bay, including me, but I have every right whether she judges me homeless or whatever, to stand on public property and watch the boats on the bay without public ridicule by any (over) paid city official."

 In light of the letter, questions, according to some city residents, have been raised on how Phillips went from a city commissioner to a paid employee.

 Phillips took the position in January after the resignation of Dottie Poindexter in October 2006. The job description calls for the project-program manager for the department head to "supervise and manage activities of project engineers, contractors and consultants. Provide direction during the planning, engineering, design, land acquisition and construction phases of assigned projects to assure a quality project is produced in a timely and cost-effective manner. Work directly with local, state and federal agencies to plan, organize and coordinate the writing of specific grant applications."

 Ten other applicants offered their services for the position last year, coming from as far away as Indiana and Georgia. Their backgrounds ranged from emergency management directors, construction managers, real estate management, insurance agent - even one man who was a fundraiser for the American Red Cross.

 "Lisa Marie knows the system," Chappie said at the time of his recommendation of her hire by the city in December. "She knows how to write grants and is familiar with the Waterfronts Florida Program."

 That program is a key element of the city’s project list, including a $50,000 state grant to develop the city as a waterfront community through enhanced environmental and aesthetic projects.

 Phillips, who served for three years as a city commissioner, has a $45,000 a year salary in the department head post. Chappie said that salary was less than the advertised range of $47,000 to $49,000, but due to a lack of some experience in some areas he believed the lower figure was appropriate and could be raised after a 90-day probationary period.

Phillips’ alleged abuses while a commissioner involved a "road-rage" incident shortly after she took office in 2003, in which she was charged with improper conduct by a neighbor. A Florida Division of Administrative Hearings judge later fined her $2,000 for the incident.

"After a recorded history of poor public relations, Phillips was not voted by the people, but rather handed on a silver platter, the $45,000-a-year cake position of project program manager by Bradenton Beach city commissioners," Cenko concluded in her letter. "Phillips has already begun to abuse her self-imposed power and does not deserve this position. She is a liability Bradenton Beach can no longer afford."

Cenko was unavailable for further comment on her altercation with Phillips.