ANNA MARIA — As the e-mails from Harry Stoltzfus continued to be produced in response to a public records request, the furor over the embattled first-term commissioner’s communications continued to heat up.
“We ought to do something to see if this is all true,” said Jennifer Cascardo, a resident of the city. “A lot of the people in my neighborhood are elderly. They voted for him (Stoltzfus) and they are horrified to think that he offered to contribute to a lawsuit against the city if he could keep his name out of it.”
The lawsuit referred to by Cascardo’s neighbors is referenced in an e-mail from Stoltzfus to Nicky Hunt about a pending lawsuit William and Barbara Nally were considering filing against the city.
“I’m willing to throw some money away on this one, but don’t feel it would be wise to be named as one of the persons in the litigation,” Stoltzfus said in an e-mail dated Feb. 26 to attorney Jeremy Anderson, of Lobeck and Hanson.
“I believe you e-mailed me by mistake,” Anderson said in a return e-mail that same day. “If you do in fact wish to participate in an action, it is possible that you not be named and that your name not be disclosed.”
There is no evidence that Stoltzfus ever followed through.
The lawsuit, which was lodged by William and Barbara Nally, challenges the city’s approval of a site plan at 216 Pine Ave.
The contention is that the site plan violates the city’s comprehensive plan by exceeding the density allowed.
The matter is now in the hands of the Circuit Court.
Mike Barfield, a legal consultant who declined to name his client, has charged that there is a group of people who are running a “shadow government” in the city of Anna Maria.
Stoltzfus says Barfield was convicted of lying to a federal judge and an Assistant U.S. Attorney and pled guilty to felony charges.
Barfield acknowledges the charges and says he served his time and learned his lesson.
Since then, he’s worked as a legal consultant on issues dealing with the Sunshine Laws also known as the open government laws.
Barfield further points out that anyone could make the public records requests he made of Stoltzfus and also planning and zoning board member Jim Conoly.
“In fact, anyone can request a copy of any public record,” Barfield said. “You can request public records anonymously if you want to, and no one has to give a reason.”
Barfield was a party to a successful lawsuit in the city of Venice where several commissioners were accused of conspiring through their personal e-mails to stop a developer.
His share of the take in that lawsuit was over $100,000.
Barfield notes as of March 29, Stoltzfus has still not transmitted the e-mails in the format requested, something that he’s required to do under the law.
Stoltzfus has also not yet produced the records from his i-Phone, saying he’s never used it to conduct city business and he doesn’t use it for e-mails or phone calls at all.
At a special city commission meeting March 24, Sandy Mattick questioned whether any votes taken by this commission would be subject to challenge.
“If the commissioners accused did, in fact break the law, it seems to me that any vote they took on any matter could be challenged,” she said.
Commission Chair John Quam said that Mattick was only supposed to address items on the agenda for that meeting.
At the regular commission meeting on March 25, Gene Aubry stood up at the end of the meeting during the public comment portion of the agenda.
He said he’d read the accounts of elected officials and appointed members of boards engaging in alleged violations of the Sunshine Laws.
“I then took it upon myself to read just a portion of those e-mails (all public records) and was appalled!” Aubry said. “I, as a citizen of the city, request of the mayor, working with the commission if they so choose, our legal attorney, Jim Dye, and the Attorney General of the State of Florida to review all of the e-mail data that has been turned in by those from whom it was requested.
“I ask that, if determined by those people, if laws have in fact been violated and the results be given to the Anna Maria city government with any penalties to be given out according to state laws.”
After the meeting, Mayor Fran Barford said that it wasn’t in her power to do what Aubry asked.
“I would suggest that the electors need to do what they need to do to deal with this situation,” she said.
There is a recall procedure allowed under the city charter and state statute. That information is available online through the city of Anna Maria.
And it’s one of the duties of the city clerk to provide that information to anyone who seeks it.
The e-mails in question are also available through the clerk’s office.
Stoltzfus has written a letter to the editor, which is available in today’s edition of The Sun.