Bronson mayor planning to file defamation suit

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Bronson Mayor Franklin Schuler Jr. said he will be filing a defamation lawsuit against the parties to a complaint about his behavior at a concert that resulted him being reprimanded for a violation of professional standards in his job as a Levy County sheriff's corrections officer.

Schuler was accused by Mark Cox and two juveniles of cursing and possibly being drunk after being told he could not park in an area reserved for vendor deliveries at the Feb. 28 Bark 'n' Purr concert. The trio filed the complaint with the Levy County Sheriff's office on Tuesday following the Saturday encounter.

An internal investigation by the Sheriff's Office concluded the complaint about being intoxicated was unfounded, while the complaint that he used profanity in front of two juveniles and an adult was found to be substantiated.

The day he was reprimanded, Schuler said he resigned - ending a 19-year career with the sheriff's office. "I did it because I didn't trust them no more," he said. "It was all made up."

During an interview about the Bronson Town Council's payment of $1,387.50 to City Attorney Steven Warm, Schuler  said he will be going ahead with a defamation suit against Cox and the parents of the juveniles and indicated he would also name Levy Sheriff's Deputy Frank McKoy in the suit as well.

The parking incident revolves around Schuler's trip to the Bronson Youth League Park to check on city workers at the concert. When Schuler drove into the parking area he did not pay the required $2 fee which was going to support the Bronson Baseball League. Players from the league and adult volunteers were working in the parking area.

When Schuler pulled up to a spot reserved for vendors to use, the two juveniles and Cox told him he could not park in that spot.

Schuler says he replied that he would park wherever he wanted. And he proceeded to park in the no parking, tow-away zone and go into the concert area.

The juveniles and Cox said in their official complaint that Schuler used profanity in his reply saying he would park wherever he wanted to park and did not identify himself as Bronson mayor.

Cox located Deputy McKoy and pointed out the mystery man in the parking disagreement. McKoy identified Schuler to Cox as mayor. When the two men caught up with the mayor. McKoy asked what he said and did he use profanity, which Schuler denied, according to McKoy's official statement in the investigation into Schuler's behavior.

McKoy, who has known the mayor for a number of years, said Schuler was acting strangely and had an odor about him.

The deputy obtained the names of the trio and passed on the information to his supervisor Sgt. Carl Rogers. On March 3, the two juveniles and Cox filed the complaints with the Sheriff's Office.

The Town Council voted on Sept. 28 to pay the bill, which Warm said he cut in half. "The bill represents a reduction," Warm said. The attorney said he defended "Mayor Schuler's interest that he said something nasty about somebody in the process of checking the park."

Warm's bill notes that he worked 9.25 hours at $150 per hour on Schuler's behalf including receiving and reviewing the paperwork in the Sheriff's Office investigation, accompanying Schuler to an interview with the investigator, Capt. Evan Sullivan, "conference with client re: issue of "whom do we sue?", discussion and preparation of the complaint, civil cover sheet and summons for the civil suit.

Vice Mayor Beatrice Mongo said the town should pay the bill. Councilman Berlon Weeks said if Schuler was filing a defamation suit then he should pay the cost.

"Now if you want to file a suit, you should have to do that," Mongo said. "But this, he was acting on behalf of the town."

The motion to pay the bill by Councilman Aaron Edmundson, seconded by Weeks, passed unanimously.

On Monday, Schuler said in an interview that he did not see any ethical conflict in using the city attorney to defend him on the complaint to the Sheriff's Office, or in having the city pay his legal bill. "There would be no conflict of interest," he said.  

Schuler even denied having an influence in the council's decision to hire or keep Warm as city attorney. "They do what they want."

"I wouldn't have no legal bill if I wasn't the mayor," he said. "I was representing the city. Why should I have to pay for representing the city?"

At the same time, Schuler said he has not sought an opinion from the state Ethics Commission on using the city attorney for the sheriff's office case and he has not received any training in state ethics requirements for city officials.

"These people are trying to slander me," Schuler said. "That was not their job (to tell people where to park). I can park anywhere I want over there," Schuler said. "I didn't curse that guy and didn't curse the children."

Asked if in retrospect he would handle the situation differently, immediately telling the parking attendants he is the mayor going to check on workers, Schuler said no.

He said if it happened again he would handle it the same way. "I can park wherever I want," Schuler said.