BRADENTON BEACH – The Sunshine Law lawsuit involving six former city board members is tentatively scheduled for trial on or around March 11.
The trial date was established during a Monday, Dec. 3, case management hearing. City attorney Ricinda Perry then provided city commissioners with an update during the commission’s Thursday, Dec. 6, meeting.
Perry said the parties involved have agreed to a pre-trial mediation session on Feb. 25 in an attempt to reach a settlement before the case goes to trial.
“Nothing can be binding until it comes before you all,” Perry told the commission regarding any proposed settlement.
Perry said the goal is to try to convince some or all of the defendants to apologize for their past actions and come up with a reasonable settlement.
Perry said she’s not optimistic about a settlement because John Metz’s attorney, Tom Shults, recently scheduled depositions for her, city resident Jack Clarke, City Planner Alan Garrett and City Clerk Terri Sanclemente.
Filed on behalf of the City Commission and Clarke as co-plaintiffs in August 2017, the lawsuit alleges Planning and Zoning Board members Reed Mapes, Metz, Patty Shay and Bill Vincent, and Scenic WAVES Committee members Tjet Martin and Rose Vincent violated Florida’s Sunshine Law.
The allegations pertain to open public meetings and discussions about city matters that had or could foreseeably come before the board and committee members in their official capacities. The lawsuit also alleges violations of Florida’s public records law regarding private email exchanges in which the defendants discussed parking garages and other city business.
During the July 25, 2017, Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) meeting, Mapes proposed a charter amendment initiative that would have prohibited parking garages citywide if pursued and adopted. During that meeting, Metz and others also expressed opposition to parking garages. That meeting was recorded and posted on the CNOBB website.
When Perry learned of that discussion, she told the commission a request to build a parking garage would require Planning and Zoning Board review and would likely require Scenic WAVES Committee input too. Perry feared this now put the city at risk of being sued should an application to build a parking garage be submitted.
The commission later voted 4-1 in favor of taking legal action, with then-mayor Bill Shearon casting the only opposition vote.
The lawsuit seeks a judge’s ruling as to whether the violations occurred. The city also seeks to recoup some of its legal costs if the defendants are found guilty. As of last week, those fees totaled $116,305.
Mapes letter rebutted
While discussing these matters last week, Perry and Mayor Chappie rebutted what they said were some false claims contained in a letter written by Mapes that was recently published in both Island newspapers.
“The city codes at the time did not allow for a parking garage and still don’t. Our discussion was about an initiative, not about a parking garage,” Mapes stated in his letter
When Mapes proposed a citywide parking garage prohibition in 2017, the city’s comprehensive plan and land development code still allowed parking garages in several areas. It was not until August of this year that the commission adopted two ordinances that now prohibit multi-level and stand-alone parking garages throughout the city.
Mapes’ letter also referenced the only known settlement offer to date: “They could have accepted our initial offer to give token amounts to charity and resign from the boards and walk away,” he wrote.
On Sept. 5, 2017, attorney Jim Dye, on behalf of his five clients at the time, minus Metz, submitted to attorney Robert Watrous the first and only settlement offer.
Dye’s letter noted the five defendants he represented had all resigned from their city positions and were willing to pay $100 each toward the city and Clarke’s legal fees, with no admission or denial of liability or fault. There was no mention of any charity.
Watrous’ written response to Dye said, “My clients categorically reject your settlement offer.”
Last week, Chappie said, “With regards to some claim by him (Mapes) that a settlement offer was made with a donation to charity, that’s the first I heard of this. What are you trying to do, putting out a totally false statement to the people of our community? That never happened,” Chappie said.
Chappie noted the settlement offer was proposed when the city’s legal costs were only about $5,000, and all the commission wanted was an admission of guilt and to have the city’s legal costs taken care of.
“They flat-out said no and countered with $100 from each and that was it,” Chappie said.