CNOBB webmaster deposition raises more Sunshine questions

CNOBB webmaster deposition raises more Sunshine questions
Former CNOBB webmaster Michael Harrington was deposed under oath with his wife, Carol, by his side. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON – The deposition of former webmaster Michael Harrington has uncovered emails that raise additional questions about possible Sunshine law violations by members of the Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) group.

The City of Bradenton Beach and resident Jack Clarke are co-plaintiffs in a 2017 lawsuit seeking a judge’s ruling as to whether the city advisory board members violated the Florida Sunshine Law by discussing past and potentially foreseeable board and committee business during CNOBB meetings.

During the deposition, Harrington said under oath that he thought he deleted all CNOBB-related emails from his Gmail account, only to discover they were never fully deleted.

The suit names former Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board members Reed Mapes, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill Vincent and former Scenic WAVES Committee members Tjet Martin and Rose Vincent as defendants. All six defendants were members of the now-disbanded CNOBB group when the alleged violations occurred.

A July 25, 2017 CNOBB meeting included a recorded discussion about a proposed citywide ban on parking garages. CNOBB members have also discussed the revised Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) plan and other city matters.

With his wife, Carol, sitting next to him on Jan. 23, the 81-year-old former Bradenton Beach resident – who is not a defendant in the suit – was deposed under oath by attorney Robert Watrous for nearly six hours. Paralegal Michael Barfield assisted Watrous.

The deposition was part of the discovery phase of the suit, scheduled for a mid-March trial. A court-ordered mediation is scheduled for Feb. 25 and two more depositions are scheduled for February.

Email trail

In response to a subpoena, Harrington recently provided Barfield with a flash drive containing approximately 10,000 emails and documents obtained from his computer. Harrington said he meant to turn over 325 emails pertaining to CNOBB and the lawsuit, but the additional emails and documents were inadvertently included.

“We didn’t get all of the emails. Some of them you might have been successful in deleting.” – attorney Robert Watrous

During the deposition, Harrington said under oath that he thought he deleted all CNOBB-related emails from his Gmail account, only to discover they were never fully deleted.

Toward the end of the deposition, Watrous referenced an October 2017 email from Mapes to Harrington suggesting they communicate by phone instead of email. Watrous and Barfield presented 24 of those documents as exhibits during the deposition.

Watrous said that email also included a request from Mapes to delete two previous emails he sent Harrington. Those emails were not among those provided to Barfield.

This flash drive provided by Michael Harrington contained hundreds of emails and documents pertaining to the CNOBB group and its members. – Submitted

“We didn’t get all of the emails. Some of them you might have been successful in deleting,” Watrous said.

Harrington said his old Gateway computer died approximately two months ago and when he took it to the technicians at Best Buy, he was told it would cost $250 to repair. Harrington said he told the technicians to dispose of the computer and destroy the hard drive.

Harrington said he bought a new laptop computer about four months before the Gateway died. Watrous found it interesting that Harrington had the foresight to buy a new computer before the computer he’d been using died.

Because of this, Watrous said he was not terminating the deposition and he would consider seeking a judge’s order for a forensic investigation of Harrington’s computer and email records.

During one of the breaks, Watrous said, “Every time we ask for discovery, we get things we haven’t seen before. A lot of this we’ve never seen before.”

He also noted that those subpoenaed are required by law to produce all documents requested.

Additional exhibits

Watrous produced a June 2017 email exchange among Harrington, Bill Vincent and Mapes in which Mapes questioned whether the CNOBB website forum page should be public or private.

“Here again is the issue of Sunshine violations,” Mapes wrote.

Watrous produced a July 24, 2017 email Mapes sent to Harrington and others requesting to be allowed to respond to a CNOBB forum post called “Nix the Parking Garage.”

He also produced two emails and the attached documents that Martin sent CNOBB members regarding the CNOBB mission statement and proposed charter amendment initiatives.

Martin’s July 23, 2017 document listed five charter initiatives that included a citywide parking garage prohibition. Harrington said he was asked to post that document at the CNOBB website.

“I think you are agreeing to the fact that there was a sunshine violation. I would hate for the four of us to have you say that.” – defendant Reed Mapes

On July 25, Martin distributed a revised document that no longer referenced the parking garage prohibition.

On July 26, Mapes sent Harrington an email that said, “Please delete the item about the parking garage. Since we decided it might one day be a P n Z issue we decided to drop it for now.”

Watrous produced a letter to the editor addressed to Bradenton Beach residents which Harrington had drafted and sent to several CNOBB members on Aug. 12 seeking their feedback.

“The very brief mention of a ‘parking garage’ was in front of four of the Planning and Zoning Board (members) in attendance. That mistake was quickly realized and the subject was dropped,” Harrington’s letter said.

Harrington said he was asked not to publish the letter, but he could not recall who made that request.

Obtained previously by Barfield, Harrington distributed another email that same day containing Mapes’ response.

“I don’t want you to say we made a mistake. I think you are agreeing to the fact that there was a sunshine violation. I would hate for the four of us to have you say that,” Mapes wrote.

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