Sunshine defendants propose settlement counteroffer

Sunshine defendants propose settlement counteroffer
Shown here at a previous hearing, attorney Thomas Shults drafted the settlement counteroffer proposed last week. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – The six defendants in the 2017 Sunshine Law lawsuit filed by the city of Bradenton Beach have made a counteroffer to the city commission’s recent settlement offer. Attorney Thomas Shults drafted the counteroffer on behalf defendants John Metz, Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, Patty Shay, Bill Vincent and Rose Vincent. The counteroffer was emailed to the parties involved at 9 a.m. on Friday, March 8. The counteroffer drafted by Shults attempts to revise a clause included in the settlement offer unanimously approved by the city commission on Feb. 28. “All defendants shall acknowledge they had concerns about the application of the Sunshine Law as it relates to the meetings at issue in this case and further acknowledge that errors were made as it relates to the Sunshine Law,” says the clause included in the city’s settlement offer.

The defendants’ counteroffer proposes that language be revised to say, “errors may have been made” instead of, “errors were made.” The counteroffer proposes the defendants collectively make a $10,000 donation the Annie Silver Community Center instead of paying the city $500 each or $3,000 collectively, as proposed in the commission’s settlement offer. The counteroffer states the city may instead designate all or some the defendants’ $10,000 to another charitable entity that benefits the city and its residents. The counteroffer encourages the city to also consider contributing an unspecified amount to the Annie Silver Community Center, which is not a city-owned or operated entity. The defendants’ counteroffer stipulates a Friday, March 15 acceptance deadline. The city’s settlement offer stipulates a Tuesday, March 19 acceptance deadline. The city’s deadline is based on witness depositions being scheduled to resume on March 20, at which time the city’s legal fees will again increase significantly. As of Feb. 28, the city’s legal fees exceeded $168,000, according to City Attorney Ricinda Perry. When contacted Friday afternoon, Perry said she reached out to Shults that afternoon to further discuss the settlement language
pertaining to the defendants’ admission of errors. Perry noted the defendants’ proposed $10,000 donation to a charitable entity would negate the $3,000 the city requested be paid to the city. Perry also said a matching donation from the city would require an additional expenditure of taxpayer dollars. On Monday morning, Perry said she and Shults planned to speak by phone later that day. The city commission must approve any settlement offer or counteroffer made by Perry and the defendants must approve any offer or counteroffer made on their behalves. If a settlement cannot be reached, the case will continue proceeding toward the trial scheduled in mid-July.

Past Actions

In September 2017, the city rejected a settlement offer proposed on behalf of five of the six defendants, minus Metz, that stated: “There will not be an admission or denial of liability or fault, but a recognition that the parties agree it is in their best interests to settle the differences.” To date, the city commission has not expressed interest in a settlement that does not include an admission of errors from the defendants. The August 2017 lawsuit filed on behalf of the city of Bradenton Beach and co-plaintiff Jack Clarke seeks a judge’s ruling as to whether four Planning and Zoning Board members and two Scenic WAVES Committee members violated the Florida Sunshine Law. The lawsuit alleges the six defendants, who are now former board members, violated the Sunshine Law when they discussed parking garages and other advisory board business or foreseeable advisory board business during Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) meetings that occurred that summer. The CNOBB meetings were not conducted at city hall, were not publicly noticed by the city clerk’s office and were not considered city meetings.

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