BRADENTON BEACH – Sunshine Law lawsuit defendants Reed Mapes and Tjet Martin have been deposed by attorney Robert Watrous.
Defendant Patty Shay is scheduled for deposition this week. Defendants Bill and Rose Vincent were scheduled for depositions on Monday, June 4, but they were postponed in part due to Bill Vincent being legally blind and requiring special equipment and computer software to assist him when reading evidentiary exhibits presented to him. Defendant John Metz’s May 23 deposition was previously postponed.
Watrous deposed Mapes on Wednesday, May 30, and Martin on Friday, June 1. They were given under oath with a court reporter transcribing what was said. The depositions took place at the Vincent M. Lucente & Associates office in Bradenton.
Watrous represents the city of Bradenton Beach and co-plaintiff Jack Clarke in the civil lawsuit filed against the defendants in August. Paralegal Michael Barfield is assisting Watrous.
Mapes was represented by attorney Jim Dye and Metz brought attorney Tom Shults, even though he wasn’t being deposed. Martin represented herself, but Dye and another Metz attorney, Jodi Ruberg, provided occasional assistance.
All six defendants attended Mapes’s deposition and all but Shay attended Martin’s deposition. Martin’s significant other, Bill Shearon, attended both depositions. Clarke attended the morning sessions of both depositions.
The defendants are accused of violating the Florida Sunshine Law by discussing city matters that could have foreseeably come before them in their official capacities as city advisory board members. The alleged violations pertain to Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) meetings and email exchanges between members who at the time served together on the Planning and Zoning Board or the Scenic WAVES Committee.
Some of those discussions and email exchanges referenced parking garage prohibitions, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) plan, the comprehensive plan and future land use maps.
The six defendants helped form CNOBB while serving as appointed city board members. They resigned from their city positions last summer and CNOBB was disbanded last fall.
When Mapes’ deposition began, Shults and Dye objected to the presence of two newspaper reporters but didn’t demand their removal.
Mapes served on the Planning Board for about a year and he acknowledged receiving mandatory Sunshine Law training that included attendance at a seminar conducted by County Attorney Mickey Palmer.
Watrous posed several questions regarding communications between planning board members and the overlap between CRA and planning board matters.
He also asked several questions about CNOBB’s formation and intent. Mapes said the intent was to educate citizens on city issues. CNOBB pursued three charter amendment initiatives and later registered as a political action committee.
During a July 25 CNOBB meeting, Mapes suggested a charter amendment that prohibited parking garages citywide. A recording of that meeting was played during his deposition.
Watrous referenced a June 12 email Mapes sent to Bill Vincent regarding Metz’s concerns about Sunshine Law compliance and a June 13 email Mapes sent to Vincent about the creation of a CNOBB website that could be public, semi-public or private.
“Here again is the issue of Sunshine violations,” Mapes wrote in that email.
When asked if he discussed Sunshine Law concerns with Metz in person, Mapes said he presumed he did, but couldn’t recall.
Watrous noted that Vincent received an opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics that advised CNOBB to consult an attorney if they had concerns about their meetings being Sunshine Law compliant.
Watrous cited email exchanges Mapes had with his attorney Bob Hendrickson about CNOBB matters and asked if he ever sought Hendrickson’s advice on Sunshine compliance. Mapes said he did not.
“I pushed for the parking garage. It might have been on my street and I didn’t want a parking garage,” Mapes said, noting the parking garage prohibition was not pursued by CNOBB.
“Our first meeting, which was back in June, we discussed dropping it. I kept bringing it up,” Mapes said regarding parking garages.
He said he did not feel the parking garage discussions violated the Sunshine Law.
“Why not make the effort and be more certain?” Watrous asked.
“Sometimes we decide what we want, the way we want it,” Mapes said.
“Did it occur to you what CNOBB was doing was negotiating in back room deals?” Watrous said at one point.
“Not at all,” Mapes responded.
Martin formerly chaired the Scenic WAVES Committee that advises the City Commission and CRA on landscaping and beautification projects. Several questions pertained to projects discussed and/or pursued by the CRA, the Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) Committee or the City Commission.
These included the Bridge Street planters and plants, benches, park signs, trolley stops, Chickee huts and more. Watrous noted all these items had been or could foreseeably need to be reviewed by Scenic WAVES.
Martin said she did not feel the CNOBB discussions violated the Sunshine Law and she acknowledged participation in several Sunshine Law training sessions.
Near the end of her deposition, Martin was asked if she discussed the Sunshine lawsuit with Metz, a former attorney. Martin claimed she didn’t have to answer that question and Watrous told her she did.
She said she would “rant” to Metz, but he didn’t say much in response that she could recall.
“Normally, he sat and listened to me,” she said.
Martin said her lawsuit conversations with Bill Vincent were of a more technical nature pertaining to emails requested from her as part of the lawsuit.
When Watrous asked Martin if she discussed the lawsuit with anybody, Martin said, “Mr. Shearon.”
“And what have you two discussed?” Watrous asked.
Martin tried to hold back her tears as she said, “Just my disappointment with the city. My disappointment in how they treated us.”
Through her tears she said she dedicated a lot of her time to the city and then she got up and left the conference room. She returned a short time later and answered the few remaining questions Watrous had.