East Carbon crowd calls for mayor's suspension
East Carbon residents packed Tuesday's council session, asking repeatedly that disciplinary action be taken against Mayor Orlando LaFontaine in response to a letter he wrote the night before the Nov. 5 municipal election. The mayor is being investigated by the Carbon County Sheriff for matters related to the letter and the manner in which it was distributed.
Ultimately, the city council took no action against LaFontaine.
"I'm sure a lot of people are here because of a letter that was circulated, that matter is under investigation by the sheriff's office and it is my recommendation that no action be taken at this point, said East Carbon City Attorney Jeremy Humes, who addressed to council as Tuesday's meeting began. "Let the investigation run its course to find out what the facts are, if any action is appropriate it will be recommended by the sheriff's office and handled by the county attorney's office."
Rather than stewing over LaFontaine's actions, Humes recommended that the council spend its time and resources getting ready for the "mountain" of work which lies before them. The council has only 30 days to prepare several documents and maps needed to move forward with the approved merger of East Carbon and Sunnyside city.
The citizens felt differently.
"I would like to start by voicing my disappointment at the fact that Orlando is not here tonight," said Tammie Edwards of East Carbon. "I appreciate free speech, but I feel that it's inappropriate that I should pay for his freedom of speech to be distributed throughout our community."
Edwards was alluding to the allegation that LaFontaine used city equipment, vehicles and employees to manufacture and distribute the letter which took aim at candidates Darrell Valdez, Barbara Fisher and several members of their families.
"My understanding is that it was printed off here at city hall and delivered in the city vehicles by two city employees. If that turns out to be fact, I would like to be reimbursed by the city," said Edwards. "I do not believe that we should be paying for such rubbish to be produced. This letter at best is slander and at worst is probably illegal."
Edwards continued to state that while the mayor had been allowed to get away with more than most over the past eight years, there has to be a point where that stops.
"What we allow, we also condone," she said. "I know Orlando only has two months left but I want him removed. And I want him prosecuted if it is found that he has broken laws."
From the crowd, former city council member Andy Urbanik stated that the county would not prosecute LaFontaine. He stated that at one point the Utah Attorney General, Carbon County and Emery County all declined to prosecute the mayor citing a lack of funds or conflict of interest.
"That man has taken city funds for personal use and nothing was ever done about it," said Urbanik.
City Treasurer Cheryl McFarland explained how the city handled LaFontaine's use of city resources.
"Andy, are you talking about when he was using his city credit card for personal use?," she asked. "I applied his pay check toward paying it back. He didn't really get away with it. I'm not condoning it, but we got our money back."
Marcus Palacios, who ran for mayor in the past election, addressed the council, stating that while the controversial letter had nothing to do with his defeat, it did affect the campaigns of those named.
"An embarrassing black eye has been given to our community by Orlando's actions," he said.
Palacios referred to LaFontaine's use of city equipment for political purposes and his improper disclosure of privately controlled protected information.
Palacios also asked the council to suspend LaFontaine for the next two months based on his admission that he had used city equipment in regard to the letter.
Every member of the council responded to the letter in one way or another, condemning the action unanimously and asked their attorney for advice.
Humes once again recommended that the city take no action, citing the possibility for creating liability and the protections afforded the accused in this country.
The council and city went back and forth for more than an hour before council member Valdez finally made a motion to have LaFontaine suspended. There were no seconds.
LaFontaine was not at Tuesday's meeting but did contact the Sun Advocate with this statement.
"Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth. The truth hurts and I stand by that letter," he said. "I don't agree with having a power plant in the middle of town. I can't say enough about bad things about the power plant. ECDC at one point did want to take away scholarships and I fought with them to keep the scholarships. And how is it that only certain people get to use the reservoir it should be open to our entire community.
"The candidates running were talking about me and my family before the election. How can a person running for mayor negotiate with the two largest companies in town when her sons work for them? I feel it's fair to talk about Ashley Manley when he is the person in charge of caring for the property the reservoir sits on and the surrounding campgrounds that sit on it. I believe that area should be open to the public."
LaFontaine said he did not attend the meeting because, "I knew if I went down there last night, I would have lost my cool. "The people who support my actions, they weren't there either."
LaFontaine stated that he would not seek the council seat to be opened when mayor-elect Barbara Robinett takes office.