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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Candidate calls Anna Maria mayor 'irresponsible'

Looks like the mud-slinging in the Anna Maria mayor's race has begun.

Mayoral candidate and former Mayor Gary Deffenbaugh called current Mayor SueLynn and Public Works Director George McKay "irresponsible" after public works department staff member Gary Thorpe collapsed of heat exhaustion while working outside Friday afternoon had to be taken to Blake Medical Center. Thorpe was taken to Blake around 1:30 p.m. and released in good condition at 5:30 p.m.

Allowing public works staff members to work in such high heat shows "irresponsibility" on the part of SueLynn, Deffenbaugh said, and it certainly wouldn't have happened if he was mayor.

"She said she didn't know Thorpe was outside working in the heat. I find that hard to believe," he said.

Thorpe was using a powered push mower to cut grass along a right-of-way at Fir Street and North Shore Drive when he collapsed around 1:15 p.m. Resident Charley Daniel was driving by at the time and called 911 and administered first aid until emergency medical staff arrived.

According to SueLynn, Thorpe had been working outside that morning and several people told her he complained of not feeling well at lunch. Thorpe was using the powered push mower because the three riding mowers were all undergoing maintenance, she said.

Deffenbaugh said he would not have allowed PWD staff to use anything but a riding mower to cut the grass, and in such high heat, would have stopped everyone from working outdoors. "He (Thorpe) should not have been outside, even using a self-propelled mower," Deffenbaugh said. Either the mayor or McKay should have halted such outdoor activity, he claimed.

Get your facts straight, replied the mayor.

"No one is forced to work in the heat," said SueLynn. All PWD staff members are told that "if they feel the heat effects, to stop work and go inside. They are told to get plenty of water and stop anytime it's too hot." If it's too hot for them, they can go inside anytime, she added.

The mayor said that from talking to other staff members, Thorpe did not appear well at lunch time, but chose to go back to work at 1 p.m.

"Sometimes you do all you can, but these things happen. I'm very happy there's nothing wrong. I wish it hadn't happened, but it did."

The mayor said she went to Blake Friday afternoon and spoke with Thorpe, advising him to take some time off.

She's also issuing a new advisory to PWD staff to be "very careful" when working outside and get plenty of water. She'll follow up her directive with McKay and look at a mandatory maximum of 45 minutes outside work each hour for PWD staff during the high heat of summer.

SueLynn also claimed that Deffenbaugh barged into her office early Friday afternoon with his accusations before she had even been informed of what happened.

She declined to answer Deffenbaugh's charge of "irresponsibility," saying she would "not stoop" to that level.