Media banned from Volusia League of Cities ceremony Thursday honoring public figures

Mayor Adam Barringer to receive highest award despite ethics complaints filed by citizen watchdog Bob Tolley

Mary Swiderski / Headline Surfer

DAYTONA BEACH -- Even though the Volusia League of Cities receives taxpayer monies from municipal and county governments and honors public officials, the media is banned from Thursday's annual awards ceremony where New Smyrna Beach Mayor Adam Barringer, facing multiple state ethics charges, is set to receive the top award.

Only Headline Surfer expressed an interest in covering the event and received approval from Mary Swiderski, the organization's executive director, in writing no less, before doing an about face and informing the 24/7 internet newspaper, it would not be allowed to cover the event after all.

Barringer has been low key since citizen watchdog Bob Tolley filed complaints with the Florida Ethics Commission 

"I have to renege on below permission for you to attend the Awards Presentation of the Volusia League of Cities event that will be held on May 30, 2013 at Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Daytona Beach," said Swiderski in an email to Headline Surfer on May 22.

"In retrospect, it would not be fair for you to come and take pictures without also allowing all the other media's to do the same."

This was contrary to a May 14 email Swiderski sent Headline Surfer, writing in part: "You are welcome to attend the Awards Presentation of the Volusia League of Cities event that will be held on May 30, 2013 at Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Daytona Beach. Please plan to attend at 7:30-7:45PM. A name tag will be waiting for you indicating you are Press. Please make sure you are wearing that name tag at all times while videoing."

Swiderski's rationale was that it would not be fair of her organization to allow Headline Surfer access and not other media outlets, even though she conceded no other media outlet has shown any interest in covering the event.

Headline Surfer believes Swiderski is trying to shield Barringer from the media spotlight since he has been named winner of the Blaine O'Neal Award for outstanding public service, the league's top honor, despite two pending ethics complaints as follows:

# The first complaint alleges he violated state ethics by doing using his position as a city official and hosting a private party for a retired commissioner and 40-plus guests with a city credit card paying the bill.

# The second ethics complaint alleges the mayor called a cop a "pr-ck because he wouldn't let him cut through a side street before the start of the Christmas parade.

The mayor has not returned calls, emails or text messages for comment and has walked away when approached by Headline Surfer dating back to the private retirement party.

The mayor's also been criticized for securing a $60,000 CRA grant for his boyhood friend who owns a bar on Flagler, getting a $60,000 job for a PR consultant friend and helping a friend gain a seat on the planning & zoning board despite pleading no contest in court to trying to buy cocaine.

Headline Surfer, the New Smyrna Beach-based outlet, as well as the now defunct weekly Observer, staffed league's awards ceremony two years ago when several Southeast Volusia officials were being recognized. 

Swiderski was reluctant to grant Headline Surfer access to this year's wards event from the onset, but relented when the internet newspaper reminded her that her organization receives $150 annually from each of the 16 cities and towns as well as the County Council. 

When Headline Surfer reminded her that her organization receives taxpayer money and consists of public officials and honors them, she relented and agreed to allow coverage, and put it in writing at the insistence of the internet newspaper.

Headline Surfer informed County Chair Jason Davis of Swiderski's actions earlier this week and he was not pleased.

"This is ridiculous," Davis said Monday. "I agree with the internet newspaper that since the Volusia League of Cities receives taxpayer money and honors government officials -- publicly elected leaders and others -- the media should be allowed to cover such events."

"This is ridiculous," Davis said Monday. "I agree with the internet newspaper that since the Volusia League of Cities receives taxpayer money and honors government officials -- publicly elected leaders and others -- the media should be allowed to cover such events."

Davis said the situation at hand gives him reason to pause as it should other elected officials in considering future public funding "to an organization which "disrespects" the spirit of government in the sunshine.

"Whatever their agenda behind the scenes, they should not be excluding any media outlet, period." Davis said.

Swiderski is among a small contingent of political insiders trying to prove cover for the embattled mayor who faces two ethics charges and community criticism for taking care of his friends.  

The first ethics complaint stems from the mayor hosting a private retirement party at his wine-bar restaurant, So Napa Grille for longtime commissioner Jim Hathaway and nearly four dozen other city officials as well as family and friends of Hathaway with a city credit cards used to foot the bill. 

When Headline Surfer showed up at the party, its editor/publisher was told by Commissioner Judy Reiker's husband, Guy Mariande, that the party was private and by invitation only and the newspaper's presence was "making everybody feel uncomfortable."

Headline Surfer's stance then was that since a city credit card was used, the internet newspaper has as much right to be there as a commissioner's spouse since the taxpayers were footing the bill.

The city wasn't reimbursed until after Headline Surfer wrote a series of stories and to date has received no written documentation showing the city intended to collect from anyone from the onset. In fact, though it was Barringer's restaurant, he was the last to pay the $60 charged for he and his wife. Both ethics complaints were filed by citizen watchdog Bob Tolley.

That led to the first ethics complaint filed by Tolley.

The second ethics complaint filed by Tolley was in response to the interaction the mayor had with a city cop prior to the start of the annual Christmas parade in early December.

Barringer tried to sneak through a barricade side street with his "Barringer Construction" pick-up truck when he was waved off by officer Ralph Hunnefeld.

The mayor pulled over got out and extended a handshake in what the cop thought was a conciliatory assign before angrily telling him, "Thanks for being a pr-ck." He then got back into his truck and drove off.

Seven months earlier, the same officer gave Barringer a warning for running a stop sign. He's been given half a dozen such warnings since becoming mayor.

Hunnefeld, a combat veteran of the Iraq War, filed a complaint with his supervisor, in which he felt disrespected by a leader who should be setting an example for the employees who work for the municipality.

Hunnefeld wanted a written apology, but instead was forced to accept what he felt was a scripted apology in a private meeting arranged by City Manager Pam Brangaccio, who like the mayor, faces ethics charges of her own for the Hathaway retirement party.

Barringer made headlines for helping his friends securing a hefty CRA grant for one, six figures with the hiring of a second and a seat on the planning & zoning board for a third despite a checkered past.

The mayor led a unanimous commission vote earlier this spring for the permanent hiring of longtime friend Holly Smith, a former part-time public relations specialist with the county to promote the CRA district as a consultant. She has been paid $120,000 for the past two fiscal years before her permanent hiring earlier this year.

Barringer won a unanimous commission vote for $60,000 in CRA funding last fall for his boyhood friend, Dave Fernandez, owner of the Trader's bar on Flagler Avenue, well known to law enforcement. At a recent CRA meeting attended by the internet newspaper, city officials were careful not to mention Fernandez or his business by name.

The mayor also received unanimous support from his elected colleagues in November for the appointment of Steve Sather to an opening on the city planning and zoning board. Sather pleaded no contest 20 years ago in circuit court to trying to purchase a large quantity of cocaine from an undercover cop.

Sather's past became well known in 2009, when he ran for the commission seat held by then-first term commissioner Jack Grasty and fellow candidate Palmer Wilson, a retired police administrator from Montgomery County, Md.

Grasty won the primary outright and was returned to his seat while Sather finished a distant third. At the time, Grasty was asked about the viability ofd Sather asa candidate, to which he replied, "His record speaks for itself." Still, Grasty supported Sather's seating on the P&Z board.

And two years ago, Barringer caused quite a stir when he helped appoint another friend, Chad Schilsky to the CRA board, with Schilsky applying for and receiving a nearly $20,000 CRA grant to refurbish is own restaurant. The mayor's family business, Barringer Construction, piggybacked on the project before the CRA consulting attorney later determined the grant was illegal to begin with. 

When Headline Surfer tried to take the mayor's photo at Frank Bruno's final state of the county address at the Ocean Center in 2012, Barringer threw a cloth napkin in the ediror/publisher's face with spaghetti sauce on it. Headline Surfer filed an incident report with the Daytona Beach police. 

Headline Surfer had asked Swiderski to provide criteria as to how and why the league would choose Barringer given the controversy of the two ethics complaints filed against him and the other issues, but she declined, saying she didn't see the point in Headline Surfer raising the ethics complaints as newsworthy in the first place.

"The event is not about Adam it's about those who have done excellent in making their community better," Swiderski said in an email to Headline Surfer. For you it's about accusing a man of wrongdoing who has not yet been judged. If I were in your shoes I would be praying very hard the ethics board find Adam guilty because if he is not I would be concerned of getting sued when this whole thing with Adam proves innocence."

Swiderski added, "The first amendment was put in place so the truth can be heard. Not for cowards to hide behind while making up information for personal financial gain. Really Henry, that is what this whole thing is about."

Swiderski added, "The first amendment was put in place so the truth can be heard. Not for cowards to hide behind while making up information for personal financial gain. Really Henry, that is what this whole thing is about."

Henry Frederick Picture

Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com for a decade now. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed dozens of journalism-industry awards in print anddigital platforms. Frederick is enrolled at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL, where he's three-fourths through the online Master of Arts program in New Media Journalism. His graduation is in August.