By Mary Thurwachter
Lantana Mayor Dave Stewart faces sexual harassment allegations after a resident accused him of asking for sex in exchange for speed bumps on her street.
The mayor denies the woman’s claims.
Catherine Padilla, 54, filed the complaint in January with the Florida Commission on Ethics. She told The Coastal Star she and Stewart had become friends when both attended meetings of the Hypoluxo-Lantana Kiwanis Club.
Their relationship took an objectionable turn in 2015, according to Padilla, when, after a morning Kiwanis meeting, the two had lunch after which he drove her to a motel and propositioned her for sex. Padilla said she “wasn’t interested” and that Stewart drove her back to her car.
She said Stewart called her a week or two later and said he would guarantee her street would get speed tables, a safety measure for which she had lobbied, if she would have sex with him at the motel.
“I said absolutely not,” Padilla told The Coastal Star. “I said I’m not interested. I made it perfectly clear.”
Stewart, who has been mayor for 18 years, said he has never asked for, or accepted, anything in exchange for a vote.
“These accusations are totally and completely false,” the mayor said. “I will not dignify them by making a statement. I continue to focus on doing what’s best for the residents of Lantana.”
In August 2015, the Town Council voted in favor of the traffic-calming speed humps for Padilla’s street. But Padilla said the harassment continued with calls to her from the mayor the day before and after the 4-0 vote (council member Lynn Moorhouse was absent).
“The day after that meeting, the mayor called me and he said, ‘Well, aren’t you going to thank me?’ and I said for what?” Padilla said. “And he said ‘for the speed bumps.’ But I did that myself. There was no reason to thank him. He didn’t do anything. He just went along with it because it was unanimous. And he got really belligerent and he said, ‘Fine, then I’m going to yank those speed humps right out of there.’ ”
The speed humps on her street have not been removed.
Padilla said she waited so long to file the complaint because she was afraid — and because her focus was elsewhere.
“I have a son that’s in the military and we had a death in the family and also I contracted a really bad illness that could have killed me,” she said. “I was in and out of the hospital for a whole year.”
Her ex-husband, Herminio Padilla Jr., died while working at the East Central Regional Sewage Plant in West Palm Beach in January 2015. He fell through a metal floor grating, dropped into sewage and was lodged in a 42-inch pipe.
Catherine Padilla said she finally felt strong enough to file the complaint against the mayor this year, on Jan. 4. She filed an amendment to that complaint on Jan 11, when the mayor came to her house to talk to her about the complaint and she called police.
Stewart, according to the police report, told officers he had learned of the ethics complaint filed with the state and had gone to Padilla’s house to talk with her about it.
Padilla, according to the police report, said that when she opened the door and saw Stewart, she shut it, locked it and took a photo of Stewart in his car before he left. The two never spoke during the incident, both told police.
Stewart’s term expires this year, but because he had no opposition he will continue as mayor for the next three years.
Padilla said all she wants from Stewart is admission of guilt and an apology.
Complaints filed with Florida Commission on Ethics are not public record until the investigation has concluded. A spokesperson for the state would not say how long it would take for that to happen.