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County rescinds administrator's confirmation after harassment allegation

The majority of commissioners agreed that Mitchell Teitelbaum's employment with the county would not be pursued and called for improvements to the handling of complaints.


Mitchell Teitelbaum is introduced at the commission meeting on Nov. 29.
Mitchell Teitelbaum is introduced at the commission meeting on Nov. 29.
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Manatee County commissioners voted 6-1 on Jan. 10 to rescind the confirmation of Mitchell Teitelbaum as deputy county administrator, in the wake of an allegation of sexual harassment filed with the county's human resources department against Teitelbaum in December. 

According to County Attorney William Clague, the vote to rescind was not legally required and could be performed at the discretion of the commission, as Teitelbaum, who never formally accepted the position, had already declined the role with the county in writing in a Dec. 13 letter.

During the same meeting, commissioners agreed not to pursue an investigation of Teitelbaum, due to his lack of employment with the county.

The motion to rescind was made by District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh and seconded by District 1 Commissioner James Satcher.

In opposition was Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge, who had brought forward the topic, labelled on the county’s meeting agenda as “Board-Initiated HR Inquiry." He stated he was concerned about the merits of the complaint as well as its handling by the county.

“I am personally not comfortable with what has taken place in this building regarding this matter,” he said of gossip circulating and affecting commissioners' decisions. “If and when the integrity of the process is questioned, we as a board must step in.”

Commissioners Kevin Van Ostenbridge and Van essa Baugh discuss the situation.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Board members argued that Teitelbaum was not entitled to an investigation, not being an employee of the county, but the board did agree the county should examine its human resources processes. 

“It is concerning to me to see this board literally cancel a person while giving him zero due process,” Van Ostenbridge said.

“He gave us written notice that he was not taking the position,” Baugh said. “There is nothing that we are doing in this situation other than going by what he said. We have it in writing. What more do we need?”

Baugh said she had not wanted to see the issue discussed on the dais, as she did not think it was “the place of the board.” However, she said based on details she heard from the administration employees, she initially wanted to pursue an outside investigation.

"Things were being said, accusations toward our staff, that I knew was not proper, professional, etc.," she said. 

District 1 Commissioner James Satcher proposed an "outside agency" for the county that was available "on tap" to provide information in similar situations and aid in the decision process during meetings. 


About the complaint

In a county document dated Dec. 13, a county administrative employee, whose name and information was redacted, said the alleged incident took place on Nov. 29, immediately after Teitelbaum's confirmation hearing, on the ninth floor of the County Administration Building. 

The employee describes “unwanted/uninvited physical contact of a sexual nature such as grabbing around the waist and pulling close to/against his body making me uncomfortable.”

The employee wrote that the allegation was originally provided to the human resources department Dec. 5 and again on Dec 6 and wrote that human relations did not ask for a complaint form to be signed.

Listed as witnesses in the document are Manatee County Public Information Officer Bill Logan, Human Resources Director Leslie Kearns and an individual described as "Teitelbaum’s paralegal." 

Teitelbaum, who strongly denied the allegations, said that throughout the time following the Nov. 29 meeting, during which senior administrative staff showed him his new office, his wife, Joanna Petriccione, was at his side at all times.

“During that short interval, there was some chitchat between us. Nothing more,” Teitelbaum said. “And I left with my wife. I never at any time had any physical contact with anybody. There were no hugs, no embraces, nothing whatsoever. That never took place. We left the building. We went to celebrate, went to lunch afterward.”

Lakewood Ranch's Teitelbaum said he later became aware that verbal complaints had been made. He said that despite being advised the matter was unsubstantiated and resolved, he did not receive any closure on the topic. 

Thus, he said, he felt it was in his best interest to table his resignation from his position as assistant superintendent and general counsel for the Manatee County School District and to continue serving the community in that role.

Mike Barber, the communications director for the school district, said Teitelbaum has been on paid leave with the district since Jan. 5 but declined to say whether it was related to the complaint filed with the county.

Teitelbaum said he has requested a formal third-party investigation into the allegation “to hold those who made these false allegations accountable.”

A written statement provided by Teitelbaum also said, “For nearly nine years, I have proudly served the School District of Manatee County, supporting our students, support staff, teachers and administrators.

“I was presented an opportunity to join the county as a deputy county administrator, a position of growth, responsibility and continued community service. It is regrettable to face this situation prior to ever starting for, working for or conducting any business whatsoever on behalf of the county. I have always taken great pride in my position at the school district and my continued service to our community.”

On Jan. 10, 2020, Teitelbaum was placed on paid leave by the School District of Manatee County after an investigation determined he had made “unwelcome comments” to an employee of an outside agency. His leave was pending an internal investigation. 

After the five-day investigation, he was directed to complete three courses on sensitivity training in the workplace. No other action was taken.

 

author

Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is a reporter for the East County Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands. You will find Ian at everything from Music on Main in Lakewood Ranch to Manatee County Commission meetings.

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