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Now browsing: Hometown News > News > Volusia County

Colleagues to censure Orange City councilman
Rating: 3.54 / 5 (54 votes)  
Posted: 2012 Aug 24 - 00:15

By Dan Harkins

ORANGE CITY - Councilman Tom Abraham smiled through his public lashing at the beginning of Orange City Council's most recent meeting. He knew it was coming.

Not just for having exchanged pornographic images with a friend using his city-issued iPad last year. Not just for emails pondering if he would "soon mate" with a prominent Council colleague's teen daughter, either.

Much of the vitriol revolved on Councilman Abraham's stance not to resign when asked to, or even say he was sorry.

"He can't even apologize to his family, so how is he going to be able to apologize to the whole city?" asked one of Councilman Abraham's three grown sons before the meeting.

Two of his sons were pleading with the media to understand that their 69-year-old father wasn't acting rationally.

The public lashing they watched their father endure caused both to visibly wince at times.

"It is not so easy to see," the son said, while his father rambled for another set of cameras outside Council chambers.

Councilman Gary Blair made a motion after Council had roll call to deal with "these despicable acts."

"This folder contains communications that are some of the most disturbing, disgusting and demented things I've ever read," Mr. Blair said to a smiling Mr. Abraham. "It's my opinion that Councilmember Abraham has brought disgrace and dishonor to this Council and this was done using his city iPad."

Mr. Blair was first to officially ask Councilman Abraham to resign. In its absence, he urged Mr. Abraham to get counseling through the city's employee assistance program and for his constituents to lead a recall effort against him.

"I am not going to resign," Councilman Abraham said. "My constituents are not going to recall me. They know me better than Mr. Blair."

Almost every Council member asked for his resignation and apology - some angrily, others as friends. One was squeamish about judging Councilman Abraham at all.

"I felt all along in my life that I'm going to have somebody judge my morals, which is important to me," Councilman Ron Saylor said. "So I have a problem judging somebody else's. (The email record) disturbs me, yes."

Councilman Abraham tried at one point to make light of the situation, by pointing to one of his first emails, on July 7, 2011, when he tells someone, "I did not ask for an iPad. They forced it on me."

He said he sent and received pornographic images from his city iPad because it would be impractical to have two iPads to carry around, one for city use and one for personal use.

Councilman Blair flashes images he's had printed out to show the public various pornographic images sent and received by Councilman Abraham.

"Are you saying you were forced?"

Councilman Anthony Pupello stared down Councilman Abraham for much of the meeting.

"The least we could do is a censure," he said, "and the way our charter's written, that's all we can do. But the citizens have an opportunity to do more. If they're comfortable with this type of behavior representing them, then that is their choice. Our choice this evening, I believe, is to censure Mr. Abraham."

Council voted 5-2, with Mr. Saylor and Mr. Abraham dissenting, to take away Mr. Abraham's iPad. They also voted unanimously later - Councilman Abraham included - to have law director Bill Reischmann craft a resolution to publicly censure Councilman Abraham at the body's next regular meeting on Aug. 28.

In the press, Councilman Abraham has accused City Manager Jamie Croteau of initiating a state investigation into the more than 400 pages of emails due to a lackluster review that Councilman Abraham gave her last year.

She denied that sour grapes had anything to do with the probe.

"It did not," she said just as the meeting was getting under way.

A few days after the meeting, Mayor Tom Laputka spelled out for Hometown News precisely how the emails came to light.

He said the city's IT supervisor, who monitors the city's server, noticed spikes in Mr. Abraham's usage, which at one point caused him to have to pay a $55 bill for going over his bandwidth limits. All this attention caused the IT administrator to take notice of the content of Mr. Abraham's emails, Mayor Laputka said.

He turned that over to Ms. Croteau, his boss, who analyzed the material with Law Director Reischmann, Mayor Laputka said, "and they were very disturbed by what they saw."

They turned the matter over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. City code states that such official communications are taboo just for staffers, that elected officials don't apply.

On June 26, Ms. Croteau was sent a letter from Joyce Dawley, the special agent in charge of the FDLE's Orlando Regional Operations Center.

In it, she states that any stalking or transmission of pornographic images didn't rise to the level of criminal activity.

"Although the photographs and content of the emails may appear to some as being disturbing," Special Agent Dawley wrote, "it does not appear that the criminal laws of the state of Florida were violated."

Councilman Abraham said during a phone interview that that should vindicate him in the public's eye.

"They read 400 pages of emails, every one of them, and found no basis for anything," he said. "I have done nothing wrong."

Mayor Laputka said it's a lack of contrition that bothers most of his colleagues.

"Clearly, everybody in the room says, 'We don't like this,'" Mayor Laputka said, "and you're saying, 'I don't care what you like and don't like.' He's defiant and unrepentant, and people are put off by that."

Like Mr. Abraham insists, many of the emails are merely the often-poetic musings of an immigrant from India with post-graduate degrees in English and education.

Some are related to constituent issues or his work as a local nuclear radiologist, which he notes in one email he's not licensed to do.

Laced within all this, however, are dozens of other messages with pornographic images attached, mainly those between Mr. Abraham and a friend from Fort Lauderdale. Some of the photos were seemingly taken from the iPad of public women in different poses.

"These communications were very pure," he said just before his public lashing. "Good thoughts, mixed with some jokes. Very imaginative sometimes, very cheap imagination sometimes."

That's not how the rest of the room feels.

"I thought he ran out of excuses, so there you are," Mayor Laputka said. "But we didn't write those emails, he did. We can't fire him. We can just tell him what we feel about him. I guess he 's riding out his term, but the community will express themselves."

The emails are available for the price of a CD (about $3) at the City Hall Clerks Office.

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