Sunshine press conference reactions differ

Sunshine reaction
Bradenton Beach resident Jim Hassett addresses the media after the press conference, with fellow resident Jack Clarke looking on from afar. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

Updated May 26, 2018

BRADENTON BEACH – City residents Jim Hassett and Jack Clarke hold differing views on statements made during the Thursday, May 17 Sunshine Law lawsuit press conference.

After paralegal Michael Barfield concluded his remarks inside city hall, Hassett said, “Anybody wanna hear what some of the citizens think?”

Hassett was a member of the now-disbanded Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach neighborhood group at the center of the lawsuit, but he is not named in the lawsuit.

“I firmly believe the city, the council and the mayor could’ve looked at this entirely different.”
Jim Hassett, Bradenton Beach resident

Standing outside city hall, Hassett acknowledged he’d only heard the tail end of the press conference and that he was friends with some of the defendants.

“I truly believe the mayor and council have very strong feelings about the Sunshine Law and I kind of agree there’s reasons to have the Sunshine Law. However, my feelings are the interpretation of the Sunshine Law in this scenario could easily have been handled a lot quicker, a lot sooner and a lot cheaper than what we’re putting some everyday citizens of Bradenton Beach through,” he said.

“Yes, they did take a Sunshine Law class, but it appears in doing so they put themselves in harm’s way. They did do some things that might have crossed a line – some of them with more personal knowledge of doing so than others, and some with no intent whatsoever to do anything bad for the city,” Hassett said.

“I firmly believe the city, the council and the mayor could’ve looked at this entirely different. I think the city could’ve said, ‘Look folks you messed up and these are some of the things we can do right away,’ ” Hassett said, citing board member resignations as one quick cure.

Planning and Zoning Board members Bill Vincent, Reed Mapes and Patty Shay tendered their written resignations on Aug. 4 – before the City Commission, on Aug. 7, voted 4-1 in favor of pursuing legal action. Metz, Martin and Rose Vincent resigned after the lawsuit was filed.

“I’ve been naïve and perhaps misguided in thinking that grown adults, knowing about the Sunshine Law, could voluntarily and effectively stay away from it,” Vincent said when informing the commission of his intent to resign, which he did the following day.

Barfield referenced Vincent’s remarks during the press conference and he said none of the defendants has formally admitted to committing Sunshine Law violations.

“We have been reasonable and measured in reaching out to the defendants in an effort to gain their cooperation,” Barfield said.

“What they did was wrong. It’s against the law.”
Jack Clarke, Bradenton Beach resident

Rejected settlement offer

Later in the week, Hassett said he was not aware of the settlement offer proposed in September.

Representing five of the six defendants at the time – Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, Patty Shay and Bill and Rose Vincent – attorney Jim Dye sent attorney Robert Watrous a letter on Sept. 5 stating that each defendant was willing to pay the city a $100 settlement, with no admission of wrongdoing.

“There will not be an admission or denial of liability of fault,” Dye’s letter said.

“My clients categorically reject your settlement offer,” Watrous wrote in his Sept. 22 response on behalf of the city, noting there wouldn’t be a counteroffer.

Clarke’s take

Clarke, a former Bradenton Beach mayor, also addressed the media. He and the city are co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“What they did was wrong. It’s against the law. The law is not that complicated, but it does define the Sunshine Law violations as not only meeting in a room or in a group, but any type of communication up to and including email,” Clarke said.

“I don’t know a way it could be handled differently. A violation is a violation. When the city embarked upon this lawsuit the city itself was open to a lawsuit. If the city took no action in this case then they would be subject to a lawsuit from outside. Somebody could say the city did not exercise proper oversight and the opportunity to cure this would not have presented itself. I think Mr. Barfield and the city attorney and the mayor did a terrific job of laying this out for you folks,” Clarke said.

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