TEMPLE TERRACE, Fla. (WFLA) – A lawsuit filed by the now-former longtime Temple Terrace city manager outlines months of unrest that began with anonymous allegations of bid-rigging allegations leaked during a a board meeting.
Charles Stephenson filed a lawsuit on Friday, seeking a jury trial for allegations he was wrongfully fired, claiming he had not received his contractual 20 weeks of salary as severance pay. Court documents say Stephenson is seeking an additional $100,000 in damages.
When he put out an offer about 18 months ago, the central project of the drama seemed quite simple. Turn existing racquetball courts into a space for pickleball.
Since its price was less than $25,000, Stephenson could approve the offer without a vote from the city council.
In August, months after the concrete set, Councilwoman Meredith Abel read aloud a letter saying ‘forged documents’ had been used ‘to cover up that an unlicensed contractor had been illegally chosen over a licensee ” for the project.
Stephenson was accused by the tipster. At the end of Abel’s presentation, he rose to speak, but was warned by Mayor Andy Ross.
“Charles, Charles,” Ross said. “Be careful.”
Stephenson heeded Ross’s advice, then walked out of the meeting.
The tension between the city manager and council continued, boiling over at a special meeting in late October over a staffing issue.
“Don’t interrupt me,” Ross told Stephenson at one point.
Then, in late January, community development director Amir Anisi was arrested for rigging a bid on the pickleball project.
Two days later, Stephenson’s 18-year run as city manager came to an end.
“The bottom line here is that I don’t trust Mr. Stephenson,” Abel said.
Stephenson now wants a civil court jury to hear his side of the drama. Among his claims, Ross abused his powers as mayor when questioning him about personnel matters and when he took the lead in the investigation into the pickleball project.
Stephenson also reiterates a complaint he filed after the August meeting. He claims the council violated the city charter by reading allegations from an unnamed source at a public meeting.
“The information read from the public record was intended to destroy the plaintiff’s reputation,” its complaint states.
Late Friday afternoon, Ross said he couldn’t comment because he hadn’t reviewed the complaint. Stephenson’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.