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BB department head admits ordering controversial photos of personnel records

By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter

New details have emerged in what has become a controversial matter of mishandled records in Bradenton Beach.

Public works director Tom Woodard issued a statement May 12 saying he instructed Christine Watson, an employee working under him in public works, to take unauthorized photos of personnel records.

Watson said she was painting rooms at city hall during routine office hours when she maintains she saw the files in plain view on a desk.

Woodard recently said Watson called him to inform him that, based on the records she saw, deputy city clerks Audra Lanzaro and Tammy Johnson had received $1 per hour pay raises from the mayor.

“I asked her to take a photo and send it to me so that I could know if what she was telling me was accurate information,” Woodard wrote.

Prior to his admission, Watson received a reprimand for taking the photos from Woodard on instruction from the mayor.

Woodard said he took the photos he obtained from Watson the following day to a budget meeting, where he showed the photos to Commissioner Jack Clarke.

Clarke and other commission members have been holding monthly meetings with department heads to get a better understanding of what is happening within the departments.

The photos eventually were sent to ELRA Inc. attorney Robert Lincoln, who said April 30 that he received them from an anonymous source.

Woodard and Watson both have claimed they did not share the images with Lincoln.

And Johnson said May 14 the files were “at no point lying out in plain view.”

“They were in a payroll file folder,” she said. “The only time they were out of that folder was for the 10 minutes Audra was processing payroll. At no time were those documents in a public space out in the open.”

While the documents are public record, the Bradenton Beach Police Department conducted an investigation to determine whether a city employee had entered a locked file cabinet to obtain the photos.

But the police investigation determined no criminal acts had occurred. Watson admitted taking the photos during the investigation.

“We have no intention of revisiting this case,” Police Chief Sam Speciale said. “This ‘he said she said’ stuff is a city matter, not a police matter.”

The event was triggered when Lincoln sent an email to city attorney Ricinda Perry questioning Mayor Bill Shearon’s authority to give two employees pay raises.

The city clerk’s office noted that Lincoln had attached photos of personnel records that had not been obtained through normal channels – a public records request.

ELRA, the corporate entity for the BeacHhouse Restaurant, owned by Ed Chiles, has filed a lawsuit against the mayor claiming Shearon has tried to remold his position to give him more authority than the city charter allows.

Shearon said Woodard’s actions were “in poor judgment,” but he has no plan to reprimand him.

Woodard did not return phone calls from The Islander.

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