Commission votes 3-2 to take no action against board chairman

In a special meeting Monday, the Safety Harbor City Commission voted 3-2 to not take any action against Planning & Zoning Board Chairman Victor Curti after a verbal altercation between him and mayoral candidate Tanja Vidovic at the Nov. 15 Third Friday event.

Discussion of the incident consumed more than one and half hours of the Nov. 18 regular City Commission meeting, and resulted in City Commission receiving several emails from those who witnessed the incident, a partial video of the incident recorded by a resident and an incident report from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputy who was asked to intervene in the incident. 

In an email to Commissioners, Vidiovic said, in part, “I stepped over to (Curti) smiling, figuring that he wanted to speak with me and he stepped towards me as well. He immediately started to yell at me pointing his finger at me. I calmly asked him to step back, and he got so close to me that his belly touched mine, he puffed out his chest and looked angry.” An email Commission received from one of Vidovic’s supporters who witnessed the exchange also alleged that Curti was intoxicated.   

Two days after the incident, Curti emailed Vidovic, City Manager Matthew Spoor and the Commission an apology, saying he was frustrated by an earlier exhaustive public records request Vidiovic made of all of his communications that he took as an attempt to intimidate his husband. In part, Curti wrote, “Ms. Vidovic is the one that, upon seeing me point in her direction walked out from her booth and confronted me in the middle of the street by asking why I was pointing in her direction. I didn’t want to speak to her but regretfully I did. My emotions, that I have held in check for months got the better of me and for that, I apologize.”

Commission also received an email from another resident, who could be seen on the partial video provided to Commission, disputing Vidovic’s characterization of the incident. The report from Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Alimenti said, “at no time while I was there did Victor raise his voice or cause a disturbance. … I informed him some people felt he was disturbing him and suggested his finish this political conversation in a more professional setting rather than a public festival. When speaking with Victor, I did not observe any signs of impairment or indications that he was intoxicated like the complaintant had mentioned. Victor nodded his head in agreement and walked away without further incident.” The report continued, “I confirmed with Tanja that nothing got physical and no threats were made.”

The video, all emails and the deputy’s report provided to Commission can be viewed on the special meeting’s agenda backup links

At the Nov. 18 meeting, two votes failed by 3-2 votes. On the first, Commissioners Andy Zodrow and Nancy Besore voted to remove Curti from the Planning & Zoning Board, with Mayor Joe Ayoub, Vice Mayor Cliff Merz and Commissioner Carlos Diaz opposed. On the second, Merz and Diaz voted to strip Curti of his chairmanship but keep him on the board, with Ayoub, Zodrow and Besore opposed. Commissioners agreed to take this issue back up at its Dec. 2 meeting, but Ayoub later called for Monday’s special meeting instead. 

At Monday’s special meeting, Curti spoke in his defense for more than 12 minutes, reiterating his apology for not walking away immediately, elaborating on his history with Vidovic and correcting what he said was some incorrect information. About a dozen residents, including many members of the Planning & Zoning Board, also spoke in favor of Curti or shared stories of their own frustration with Vidovic before public comment ended. Vidovic did not attend the meeting, and no one spoke in her favor.

Ayoub began Commission’s deliberations by saying that it was clear to him that the entire incident was concocted for political gain, that he believed that the video provided Commission had been doctored and that he didn’t think Commission should take any action against Curti.

Besore went next, expressing frustration that Ayoub called the special meeting instead of leaving the discussion for the Dec. 2 meeting as originally planned, and she said Commission will hear a different story on Dec. 2, when she said Vidovic’s supporters will give their version. 

Ayoub said he called the special meeting because he felt an urgency to act on the issue as quickly as possible as social media was already ablaze with comments.

Diaz spoke the longest, criticizing Commissioners who had suggested that Curti’s apology was an admission of guilt, which he said happened to another resident in a previous dispute Commission wrestled with recently, adding that apologizing is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength and that Commission should not be discouraging people from apologizing.

Diaz went on to say that he, too, felt the incident was a political stunt, and that Commission has a responsibility to protect city volunteers from that. He also issued a warning to everyone to not engage Vidovic on any issue, as he believes she is always looking for trouble.

Merz, too, said an apology is not an admission of guilt, nor should it be a weapon to wield. He said he saw nothing concerning on the video, and Deputy Alimenti’s report and the support Planning & Zoning Board members showed Curti were factors in him deciding that no action should be taken against Curti.

Besore said she has supported Curti in the past, but the combination of his apology and an email from one of Curti’s friends who witnessed the altercation and said, in part, Curti “got a little heated” and “did get a little loud” as reasons why she believes he should be removed from the board.

Zodrow did not speak the entire meeting, except for answering “no,” as did Besore, when Diaz asked both whether they had seen the video of the incident prior to the Nov. 18 meeting.

Ayoub made a motion to not proceed with any action against Curti, which Merz seconded. Ayoub, Merz and Diaz voted in favor, with Zodrow and Besore against. 

MISSED THE MEETING?

Listen to an audio recording of it on the city’s website here: http://safetyharbor.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=6&clip_id=2177

NEXT MEETING

7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 2. It will be preceded by a Commission workshop at 6 p.m.

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