BRADENTON BEACH – Mayor Bill Shearon has had several private phone calls over the past two months with defendants named in a Sunshine Law lawsuit initiated by the city and resident Jack Clarke.
The lawsuit alleges six city-appointed board and committee members committed Sunshine Law violations when they discussed potential board and committee business during a Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) meeting in July.
Billing records for Shearon’s city-issued cell phone indicate the mayor has had several conversations with defendants John Metz, Reed Mapes, Bill Vincent and Patty Shay since the Sunshine concerns first surfaced in late July.
Sarasota attorney Robert Watrous is representing the city and Clarke in the lawsuit filed on their behalf on Aug. 11.
When asked if Shearon’s frequent phone conversations with some of the defendants concerned him, Watrous said, “Yes, but I think it would be prudent for me to allow the mayor an opportunity to explain.”
On Sept. 6, the mayor and city commissioners participated in an attorney-client shade meeting that allowed them to privately discuss legal strategies pertaining to the lawsuit. Before the shade meeting started, Watrous and City Attorney Ricinda Perry suggested Shearon recuse himself because his life partner, Tjet Martin, is one of the six defendants. And at the time, Martin had direct access to lawsuit-related e-mails sent to Shearon’s city account because she assists the legally blind mayor with his e-mail.
Shearon said he was bound to the same confidentiality stipulations as the other commissioners and he refused to recuse himself. It was later agreed that future lawsuit-related communications to Shearon would be made by phone in order to remove Martin from the loop.
Between the shade meeting and the billing cycle’s end on Sept. 23, Shearon made or received 28 calls from lawsuit defendants: five involving Metz, 10 involving Mapes, 10 involving Vincent and three involving Shay, according to the billing records.
Two days after the shade meeting, Shearon called Metz, Mapes and Vincent within a 10-minute period. On Sept. 14, Shay returned a call from Shearon and they spoke for 13 minutes.
“Sometimes I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast yesterday and you’re asking me what a phone call was about two months ago.”
Bill Shearon, Bradenton Beach Mayor
When city commissioners first discussed the potential Sunshine violations on Aug. 3, there was unanimous consensus to conduct an investigation. On Aug. 7, the commission, minus Marilyn Maro, voted 3-1 to hire Watrous and paralegal Michael Barfield to initiate a non-criminal lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks a judge’s ruling on whether Sunshine violations occurred. Shearon opposed the lawsuit.
Between the lawsuit filing and the shade meeting, Shearon had six phone conversations with Metz, eight with Mapes and six with Vincent. On Aug. 13, he initiated a 13-minute call to Metz. On Aug. 14, he had two calls with Vincent totaling 14 minutes. On Aug. 24, he initiated a 24-minute conversation with Metz. On Aug. 26, he initiated a 17-minute conversation with Mapes.
Last week, The Sun asked Shearon if any of these calls pertained to the lawsuit.
“No. I do not talk about the lawsuit. That’s against the law. Do you think I’d be that damn dumb?” he said. “They’re personal friends. I’m allowed to use my city cell phone for personal use. There’s times, for example, when we’ve been out for dinner.”
When asked if the calls might have pertained to other CNOBB matters, Shearon said, “I’m 70 years old. Sometimes I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast yesterday and you’re asking me what a phone call was about two months ago.”
The Sun asked Watrous if Shearon’s communications could jeopardize the city’s case.
“Not necessarily. It would depend upon the content of the conversations. I think it would be prudent for the mayor and I to have a discussion on this. In a larger municipality, it would probably be unusual, but in a small, close-knit community and city government such as Bradenton Beach I’d like to afford the mayor an opportunity to explain. This puts me on notice and I’m going to make some inquiries,” Watrous said.