A group of Donalsonville citizens filed a petition in Seminole County Superior Court Monday seeking to oust Donalsonville City Councilman Mitchell B. Blanks from office.
Jon Ricky King, Amy Leigh Williams, Lynda McCorkle Spooner, Robert Michael Spooner Sr., William B. Dismuke, Judy M. Dismuke, James Perry Barrineau, Tabatha Dawn Barrineau, Deborah S. Heimstra, Nancy Sheffield Glisson, Curtis Lambert, Trudy Lambert, and Barbara M. Richter are the petitioners in the case and they are being represented by Donalsonville attorney William M. Shingler Jr.
The petitioners allege that Councilman Blanks violated the city charter by performing dry cleaning and uniform alteration services to various agencies of the city, including but not limited to the Donalsonville Police Department through his business, Leon’s Cleaners of Donalsonville.
According to court documents, Blanks has owned the business since June 2018. He was elected to the city council and has served since 2011.
Made part of the court filing are copies of checks from the City of Donalsonville paid to Leon’s Cleaners from fiscal years 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 totaling just over $2,613.26. The petition also alleges that as of Oct. 30, Councilman Blanks had not filed a required disclosure of any conflict he has or may have as an elected city councilman by virtue of his sole ownership of Leon’s Cleaners.
Additionally, the petition states that Blanks has not recused himself or disqualified himself from discussions or votes related to the police department or any other agency of the city which he has done business with through Leon’s Cleaners, which the petitioners allege makes him guilty of malfeasance. Leon’s Cleaners is the only dry cleaning and commercial alterations service in Seminole County.
The petitioners also allege Blanks is guilty of self-dealing with regard to an application he filed with the Downtown Development Authority for an American Rescue Plan Act funded grant offered by the city to eligible businesses within the corporate limits of Donalsonville.
According to the petitioners, Leon’s Cleaners was approved for a grant of $4,913.79. Then, at the Oct. 3, 2023 council meeting, the petition alleges that Blanks informed the Mayor and council that he had been awarded the ARPA funded grant, but that he would not accept it.
The petitioners say Blanks erred by making the motion to appropriate the funds to the DDA for the small business grant program and then “using the privileged knowledge and information he obtained by virtue of his position as city councilman to apply” for the grant.
Through their attorney, the petitioners submit whether Blanks accepts the check or not, “the damage is already done.”
The petition also claims that Blanks failed to recuse himself or disclose a conflict as required by the charter when he and the other council members deliberated the hiring of a new police chief. Among the two candidates considered was Investigator Greg Long, who had investigated a domestic altercation involving Blanks and Blanks’ former wife. The family violence simple battery case was ultimately “no billed” by a Seminole County Grand Jury on Oct. 20, 2015.
The petitioners are requesting the court find that Councilman Blanks violated the provisions of the city’s charter as stated; find him guilty of malfeasance in office; remove him from office; and award petitioners all costs and expenses in bringing the action, including attorney’s fees.
Councilman Blanks issued a statement to the Donalsonville News in which he notes that most of the petitioners do not live in his district.
“This lawsuit filed by Billy Shingler and a group of people who mostly don’t live in District Two claiming that I have failed to disclose that I own Leon’s Cleaners is obviously intended to try to affect the election on November 7th.”
Blanks said, “I have never made it a secret that I am the owner of the local dry cleaners. I have obtained business licenses from the City of Donalsonville and included statements that I own Leon’s Cleaners in my bio that has been placed in the Donalsonville News and election disclosures. I am sure that all the other council members and our Mayors have known that I own Leon’s Cleaners.
My prices are competitive and my charges to the City of Donalsonville for alteration and cleaning uniforms were based on the same rates I charge all my customers. If the Donalsonville Police Department used a dry cleaner in another town, the City of Donalsonville would have to pay someone mileage to transport the uniforms for alterations and cleaning.”
The District Two councilman also said it was no secret that he was applying for the ARPA funded grant through the DDA because his business had been significantly impacted by the pandemic.
“All of the council members voted to have Downtown Development Authority supervise the distribution of $150,000 in ARCA funds. I obviously disclosed that I was the owner of Leon’s business when I applied for ARCA funds to partially offset losses to my business from COVID. People didn’t wear their suits and nice dresses very much during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am sure that all of the members of Downtown Development Authority knew that I am on the Donalsonville City Council. I had attempted to save the City of Donalsonville from any questions about these funds when I announced that I was not going to accept the funds that I was awarded, but Billy Shingler and his group want to include this claim anyway. I guess this claim isn’t much more frivolous than his other claims,” Councilman Blanks said.
“The only attorney ignorant enough to think that claimed criminal charges that were no-billed by the Seminole Grand Jury in 2015 should be the basis for my removal of office is Billy Shingler. He is a criminal defense attorney, so he obviously knows that in the United States, citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty before a jury of 12, but he filed this frivolous lawsuit anyway. This is clearly a political stunt by Shingler and his followers to smear me prior to an election. I am confident this case will be dismissed; I will be requesting that all of the people who signed the complaint against me be required by the Court to reimburse me for my attorney’s fee,” Councilman Blanks added.
Blanks is being challenged in the November 7 municipal general election by Lillian Harris.
Advance in-person voting has been underway for three weeks and concludes Friday at 5 p.m. The polls will be open next Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.