By Dan Harkins
ORANGE CITY - The sour looks and harsh words are far from over for Councilman Tom Abraham, who was recently exonerated by state law enforcement for sending and receiving pornographic images and salacious emails with his city-issued iPad.
At the City Council's most recent meeting, it wasn't just a censure he faced from his colleagues for a grouping of 400 e-mails, which are packed with not only philosophic musings and schoolyard humor but also dozens of pornographic images and a long string of correspondence in which he obsessively pines for a city leader's high-school-age daughter, even wondering if they "would soon mate."
He also faced applause when Mayor Tom Laputka revealed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had prompted a state ethics investigation into his actions and a recall effort had already been started by his 2011 opponent, Paul Rasch.
But still he won't resign or apologize.
"Why is Tom Abraham not apologizing?" he asked at the meeting. "The other guy did not apologize to me."
In a phone interview after the meeting, he said he was referring to an apology from the city IT manager, who first read what Mr. Abraham still considers private communications when his data usage spiked.
He said he doesn't anticipate the attention surrounding this matter to subside anytime soon - and so be it.
"Let them come for me with pitchforks and torches by the light of the moon," Councilman Abraham vowed. "They don't want to move on. They want to move me out."
In the resolution to censure Councilman Abraham, for which his own vote was the only one against, he was "found guilty of conduct constituting misfeasance," or "the doing of a lawful act in an unlawful or improper manner, to the detriment of others."
"... These e-mails," the resolution reads, "and Council member Abraham's public response to the publication and discussion of these e-mails is an embarrassment to Council member Abraham, to the citizens of Orange City and to this Council."
Councilman Ron Saylor said he was ready to forgive, if only an apology were still forthcoming.
"I've always believed to err is human," Councilman Saylor said, "and to forgive is the supreme thing to do. But I was also raised to believe we hold ourselves responsible for our own actions."
A round of excuses from Councilman Abraham had him praising the "high standards" of Chief Justice John Roberts and, at one point, showing a book by John McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, called, "America, You Sexy Bitch." This, he said, illustrated how mitigating circumstances should be considered in his case.
"High standards will exist," he said, "when mitigating circumstances have been addressed."
He also compared his plight to that of Hester Prynne's in "The Scarlet Letter."
Councilman Anthony Pupello said he was tired of hearing all the excuses.
"All of the reasons have failed to impress me," Councilman Pupello said, "and I feel that at any point along this journey, the individual ... could have asked for forgiveness, could have, even in the light of saying that he doesn't even believe that what he's done is wrong, but to ask forgiveness for the way the community has perceived it, the harm that has been done."
Councilman Abrahman's opponent from 2011, Mr. Rasch, spoke before the meeting about visiting the mall recently with his granddaughter. Some of the photographs in Mr. Abraham's e-mails were apparently taken by the iPad of women and young girls in public.
"I got a creepy feeling," he said, "that, what if people were there taking pictures of them and sending them off?"
Since Florida statute doesn't allow a recall effort to begin soliciting signatures until a year after the official is elected, Mr. Rasch said interested citizens can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Then, in November, once www.recalltomabraham.com is up and running, those citizens can be contacted about adding their signature to a petition.
Mr. Abraham vowed to have his own "norecall.com" site to compete.)
One citizen whose name won't be on that recall petition is Don Rucker, a 24-year local resident who's known Mr. Abraham for about a decade. He believes a cultural divide might exist in regard to what appropriate behavior is and isn't.
"I know that this is nothing short of a railroading," Mr. Rucker said. "That's my opinion. I will support Tom all the way. If FDLE can't find any criminal action, I question the validity of this whole thing."
City Manager Jamie Croteau reported the matter to FDLE, which found no criminal wrongdoing last month, though it stated in a letter the e-mails "may appear to some to be disturbing." The FDLE then handed the case off to the Florida Commission on Ethics, which has yet to come to a conclusion.