Hours before a Maitland City Council meeting would see him stripped of his vice mayoral title, Councilman Phil Bonus vowed not to leave public life, in his philanthropic endeavors in the city or his post as councilman.
Though he is no longer the city’s appointed second in line to the mayorship, he retained his position on Council among calls for his resignation at Monday’s meeting. He did not attend that meeting.
“We don’t quit,” Bonus said Monday of his family, who he said had already endured the trauma and began the healing process after revelations that he had visited an east Orange County brothel as recently as March 2011.
“We’re way ahead on this,” Bonus said. “This is a personal failure that was within the family. It’s not a secret among us, in the family or among our friends. We’ve been working through it.”
The councilman said that he was already seeking treatment for what he called a “disorder” that led him to the brothel and to a DUI charge from December 2011 in Tampa.
“It’s a personality defect of mine,” Bonus said. “We’re trying to understand it and wrap ourselves around it.”
He also said that he’s seen support and vitriol since his personal indiscretions were publicized late last week.
“You get hugs and you get slugs,” Bonus said.
At Monday’s Council meeting, Councilwoman Linda Frosch said that the allegations facing Bonus are a personal matter and that the council members should carefully consider their options before taking action. Councilman Ivan Valdes proposed removing Bonus’ vice mayor title, giving the title to Councilwoman Bev Reponen. The motion was approved 4-0.
But many residents expressed interest that Bonus lose more than that. Resident Roger Pickar distributed a survey that came back with 86 percent of respondents asking for Bonus’ resignation, though that polled group was only 28 residents.
Though 18 months has passed since Bonus’ family first became aware of the actions Bonus said he regrets, Mayor Howard Schieferdecker said that he wanted to do whatever possible to help the Bonus family, while also calling for his colleague’s resignation.
The Council does not have the power to fire a fellow councilman unless he’s convicted of a crime, but it did everything that it could amid outrage from the public at Monday’s meeting in stripping Bonus of his vice mayorship. Many residents had stood up to the podium to ask for Bonus’ firing or resignation.
“If Mr. Bonus has integrity left in him, he will resign,” resident Martha Bryant-Hall said.
Friend Jere Pile gave credit to the good work Bonus has done for the community, contrasting the actions of the man he’s known for six years to the one depicted in his recently publicized indiscretions.
“I think it’s a damn shame that a man who works as hard as he does for this community to have a career ending… he does love these people and the city of Maitland,” Pile said.
The Council directed city staff to draft a change to the city charter to allow them to punish fellow councilmen for moral or ethical lapses, though such a change would not apply to Bonus.
The City Council can remove council members if they are convicted of a crime, City Attorney Cliff Shepard said. Florida’s governor can suspend elected officials charged with misdemeanors. Bonus has a hearing on Friday, Oct. 12, regarding his DUI arrest in Tampa.
Schieferdecker said that he hoped the city could get past the controversy, again calling for Bonus’ resignation.
“We all make mistakes that sit here, we all fall short, but in this case it affects the city … and in this case we have to do what’s best to help the city heal,” he said.
Pickar said that Bonus should probably step down. Then after he’s had enough time to work through his issues, he can return to public life.
After two years of rehab, or whatever is appropriate, he said, Bonus can return a hero, like celebrities often do.