Mayor Darlene Bradley would leave her car in a handicapped parking spot outside city hall so regularly that Davenport city manager, Kelly Callihan, didn’t think much of it.
“She had a placard, so I never questioned,” Callihan told The Washington Post — though in retrospect, he said, he never noticed anything physically wrong with the mayor.
Having trounced her opponent 307 votes to 182 in the last election, Bradley was several months into her third term in this central Florida town when the trouble started.
“She’s always done a good job as mayor, always had the best interests of the city at heart,” Callihan told The Washington Post. “We had no idea anything like this would happen.”
About a month ago, someone informed the Polk County Sheriff’s Office that it should look into Bradley’s parking placard.
The sheriff’s office discovered the mayor had never been issued a special parking permit, deputies wrote in an affidavit. They installed a covert surveillance camera outside city hall during a meeting in late November.
Footage captured that evening showed Bradley parking her Crown Victoria in one of only two spots outside the building. The video also showed the mayor “exiting the vehicle with no assistance, removing a large wheeled brief/suit case from the trunk and walking into the city hall meeting without assistance,” the deputies wrote.
She left a placard hanging from the car’s rear-view mirror, according to the affidavit. Zooming in on it, the deputies saw it belonged to a Davenport woman who had died in 2012.
Additionally, the dead woman’s placard had expired in 2013 while the mayor’s read 2018, leading the sheriff’s office to suspect Bradley had forged a permit.
Deputies surveilled the parking lot multiple times during their investigation. The last operation was on Monday, when an identity-theft strike force staked out city hall and allegedly witnessed Bradley park in the same spot, with the same placard, then walk inside to sit through a council meeting.
Afterward she got back in the car, took the placard off the mirror and drove away, deputies wrote.
She was arrested the next day and charged with identity theft, counterfeiting a decal and illegally parking in a handicapped spot.
Bradley could not be reached for comment by The Post.
“She not only violated the law,” Sheriff Grady Judd said in a statement, “she embarrassed the citizens of Davenport.”
“We were shocked,” Callihan, the city manager, told The Post. He said the mayor would have to step down if she is convicted, and the governor could also intervene and suspend her until her trial concludes.
The city commissioners will meanwhile hold an emergency meeting on Thursday “to discuss all options,” Callihan said.
He said he had no idea whether the mayor would attend that meeting. There might be an extra parking space.