BRADENTON BEACH – Former mayor Jack Clarke and current City Clerk Terri Sanclemente have been deposed in the city’s ongoing Sunshine Law lawsuit.
On Monday, Jan. 7, Clarke was the first person deposed by the attorneys representing two of the six defendants.
Clarke is a co-plaintiff with the city of Bradenton Beach in the civil lawsuit that seeks a circuit court judge’s determination as to whether six former city advisory board members violated the Florida Sunshine Law that requires elected commission members and appointed advisory board members to conduct their official city business in properly noticed public meetings.
Clarke’s deposition revealed a defense strategy being pursued by attorney Thomas Shults, who is representing former Planning and Zoning Board member John Metz.
Early in the seven-hour deposition, Shults asked Clarke if he’s familiar with the phrase “acting in bad faith.” Shults spent much of the day trying to establish that Clarke, City Attorney Ricinda Perry and the City Commission acted in bad faith when filing the lawsuit against Metz, Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, Patty Shay, Bill Vincent and Rose Vincent in August 2017.
The allegations stem from the Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) meetings that took place that summer when all six defendants served as city board members while participating in CNOBB meetings that were not conducted at city hall.
Shults’s defense strategy is partially based on the contentious relationship Clarke and Metz have had in recent years. Shults questioned email exchanges that occurred between Clarke, as a private citizen, and The Sun reporter who first reported the alleged violations. Several of those emails pertained to letters to the editor Clarke penned regarding Metz’s actions.
These actions included lawsuits Metz filed against the city and the 2015 lawsuit Metz filed against Clarke personally in hopes of keeping him off the special election recall ballot that resulted in Mayor Bill Shearon being removed from office.
Shults noted that one of Clarke’s letters was critical of the legal fees Metz has subjected city taxpayers to and how that differs from the cost of the Sunshine lawsuit in which the city is now involved.
Clarke acknowledged that he has not yet been billed for any of the more than $116,000 in legal fees the city has accrued so far. He also said he’s aware that Metz could come after him for his legal fees if it’s proven the lawsuit was filed in bad faith.
When asked why he agreed to be a co-plaintiff, Clarke said, “They broke the law. It’s that simple.”
Shults spent much of Sanclemente’s Jan. 9 deposition discussing her responsibilities as the city’s official records keeper. He asked about her training and certification and the duties placed on her staff.
He questioned the role Sanclemente played in preparing the signed affidavit and exhibits attorney Robert Watrous filed in support of the city’s lawsuit.
Shults noted one of those exhibits was the oath of office Metz took when he joined the Planning Board in 2014. Shults questioned why that document was not stamped as being notarized. Sanclemente said that occurred before her time and that would have been the responsibility of then-deputy clerks Tammy Johnson or Audra Lanzaro.
Shults asked if the city’s Land Development Code (LDC) is posted on the city website. Sanclemente said it is, but the city’s website currently is shut down while being upgraded. Shults asked if the LDC is posted at the city’s Municode page. When Sanclemente said it was, Shults produced a screenshot that indicated otherwise.
Perry and City Planner Alan Garrett are scheduled to be deposed next. The case is scheduled for a March trial.