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Firestorm over message

Jenny Andreasson

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A discussion involving a political e-mail upset the Maitland City Council on March 8, as some called the timing of the talk an attempt to influence the next day's election.

Maitland Mayor Doug Kinson said there have been other attempts in the past to cloud campaigns.

"This bullying and intimidation during election times has got to stop," Kinson said.

Councilman Phil Bonus, who put the item on the agenda, defended it. "PAM is a cultural partner of our city, mayor. It's not OK for one of our cultural partners to send out political speech," he said.

The e-mail was sent out Feb. 28 by June Flowers, director of nonprofit organization Performing Arts of Maitland (PAM). It expressed support for a candidate challenging a sitting city councilwoman, about a week before the March 9 election. PAM gets most of its funding from the city, and per its charter, is not allowed to participate in political campaigns.

June Flowers, wife of Councilman Jeff Flowers, retracted her e-mail less than 12 hours later, saying that she "inadvertently sent an e-mail with the wrong sign-off."

It was in support of Councilwoman Bev Reponen's challenger, Bill Randolph, and it also mentions Friends of First Response-Maitland, another non-profit.Reponen didn't appreciate Kinson's push to dismiss the discussion.

"Here's the rub — my supporter's money was used to promote another candidate," she said. "My supporters pay taxes and PAM received that money and used it against me."

It breaks a federal law, she said, and it should not be discounted.

But Jeff Flowers said it's not an area that the Council can adjudicate.

"This is a waste of time," he said. He called his wife's e-mail an "inadvertent mistake" that she has apologized for.

"This is a red herring to even talk to you people about it," he said. "You've all made up your minds and you've got your little angry points to hold onto, and you've got unforgiving hearts to hold onto."

But Reponen said she hadn't received an apology. "Perhaps you got an apology. I didn't get an apology. Not to this moment, and I'm the wronged party."

Councilwoman Linda Frosch chastised Bonus for putting it on the agenda, calling it an attempt for him to get back at members of Council that didn't vote in favor of terminating the Maitland Town Center development agreement.

"I'd like to get Council back on city business and stop this nonsense that keeps coming up every time there's a vote that's not acceptable to someone," she said.

Resident Sandy Bonus, Phil Bonus' wife, said the timing of the discussion was acceptable, and said the mayor was wrong to try to stop it.

"As for the e-mail situation, which clearly broke the law, for you to just dismiss it and say it's because of timing … I find that disrespectful to the audience also," she said.

Resident Renee Stein Charlan said bickering between the Council is hurting the city.

"Imagine what all this energy and divisiveness is doing to our town," she said. "You cannot tell me June purposely tried to hurt Councilwoman Reponen … We'll never have a community if we can't get past this pettiness."