I remained silent this week as my blog hits shot to all time highs. The hits, I was noting, were mostly on posts I had published about our city’s mayor, Darlene Bradley, and her husband, John Lepley, but those were posted many, many months ago. But this week, seemingly out of the blue, they all came back to life for my readers.
I wanted to continue my silence ad infinitum but found – through a deluge of calls, texts, and emails – that my audience here on Darhlene.com wasn’t interested in seeing me back down on communicating my thoughts. “Now,” I was told emphatically, “is not the time for avoiding talk.” That was one reader; and another, “They want to know what you think. Tell them.” So I will; I’ll tell you what I know about the arrest of Davenport’s mayor.
On Tuesday, December 5th, Darlene, a registered Republican – not Darhlene, a registered Democrat – was arrested on two felonies, plus a misdemeanor. The charge, generally speaking, was impersonating not one but two dead people via use of their handicap licenses, a.k.a. placards.
If your mind went into a screeching halt just now, I understand. I found it mind-boggling too at first.
I was called with this news shortly about noon on Tuesday, after which I could not shake the buzz off my phone. It was like this: Ring, text, call, computer … all day long … and in a state of shock throughout it all. Why shock?
Besides the obvious pettiness of the crime, the fact is that this is our mayor; she was just re-elected in April 2017. She was at an all time high in her career. She was respected by her constituents and became an icon for the quaint, Mayberry-like atmosphere in our community. I had worked, closely at times, with Darlene in her last two political campaigns and because of that, I recognize that I might have a bias towards supporting her.
Would that affect how I’d write this story? As long as I can stick to the facts as I know them, will I be charged with bias anyway? Worse?
On publishing this post, my guess is that I’ll be finding that out real soon.
What I know is that this story made international news. Among many other news outlets, it was published in the Washington Post, ABC News, Jacksonville News, Tampa Bay Times, and a newspaper in Ecuador. It was also translated into Spanish by another South American newspaper.
Those who communicated with me referred to the “black eye” this has caused our city. “We’ve been tarnished!” said one. Another reminded me that something like this happened in Davenport less than a decade ago.
The commissioner in that incident was John Lepley. Yes, that John Lepley, the husband of Mayor Bradley. He was found guilty in 2008 of assaulting a 19-year-old in a road rage incident. Lepley lost his re-election bid the following year.
As has become evident to me in my own tepid relationship with Lepley is that he apparently never lost his rage over losing that election, anger management not being his forté. Four years after his loss and with no previous experience on the commission, Darlene became our mayor in 2013.
She was our gem, our Energizer Bunny, taking down one project after another to ensure the steady progress of our city. Her supporters animated a new generation of volunteers for the city. Her list of accomplishments: enormous; her personality: Alpha Beautiful.
With all this praise I have to bestow on our mayor, is it any wonder that I was in shock by the news? Speechless to write?
On December 8th, I put a piece of the puzzle together. It was contained in a letter that Vice Mayor Rob Robinson read to City Hall shortly after 3 PM. (The letter is included below.) As he read the words in the first paragraph that said, “the placards were associated with her husband’s visual disability and … belonged … [to] her husband,” that name, Lepley, flashed before my eyes. Was this an admission that Lepley may have lied to his wife?
The letter contained classic Lepley phrases, such as “she upset the apple cart” and “powerful interests are taking … advantage.” Was Lepley instructing his wife’s lawyer as to what to write in that letter?
The letter made reference to an attack the mayor suffered in 2012. Was this Lepley trying to protect his wife? Was he indicating PTSD? And why didn’t Darlene just ask for a parking place?
Commissioner Tom Fellows was the first to emphasize the need for fairness towards Darlene. “Let her have her day in court,” he said. Then Vice Mayor Robinson asked at least six times if anybody in the public wanted to talk. Only two former commissioners made comments. The audience in a quiet reverence usually reserved for funerals appeared to agree with Fellows; Robinson noted as much.
The commissioners then voted unanimously to suspend Darlene and to formalize a recommendation to Governor Rick Scott, who is apparently the only one who can do anything about this matter now. Using a suspension recommendation essentially censures the mayor with the added benefit that, as long as Darlene is not convicted guilty, our lil’ Mayberry will welcome her back, preferably sans Lepley.
If you will indulge my bias for a second longer: That regardless of the outcome of Darlene’s case, she’s been a force in our community, who we really don’t want to lose. As inspired by the recent words of Minnesota Senator Al Franken, I would say to Darlene if I could speak with her again, “We can take your seat, at least temporarily, but your voice? Yours and yours-only voice? We will never endeavor to take that.”
Interested in reading the apology letter from John Lepley? Here’s Lepley’s four-page “apology.”