Commission rejects Sunshine lawsuit counteroffer

Commission rejects Sunshine lawsuit counteroffer
On March 12, Mayor John Chappie, left, and commissioners Marilyn Maro, Ralph Cole and Jake Spooner (not pictured) rejected the defendants’ counteroffer. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – Bradenton Beach commissioners have rejected the settlement counteroffer proposed by the six defendants in the 2017 Sunshine Law lawsuit.

The defendants had until midnight Monday night to accept the city commission’s March 1 settlement offer and did not do so.

On March 12, the commission voted 4-1 to reject the defendants’ counteroffer prepared by attorney Thomas Shults. Shults represents John Metz; the counteroffer was also approved by co-defendants Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, Patty Shay, Bill Vincent and Rose Vincent, and included a March 15 deadline.

The commission majority opted instead to stick with the settlement offer the commission unanimously authorized on Feb. 28.

The city’s offer required the defendants to acknowledge that “errors were made as it relates to the Sunshine Law.”

The defendants’ counteroffer said, “errors may have been made,” which was deemed unacceptable by Mayor John Chappie and commissioners Ralph Cole, Marilyn Maro and Jake Spooner.

The city’s offer proposed that the defendants pay the city $500 each or $3,000 collectively. City Attorney Ricinda Perry said that amount was in accordance with Florida Statutes.

Regarding public meeting meetings and public records, F.S. §286.011 says, “Any public officer who violates any provision of this section is guilty of a noncriminal infraction, punishable by fine not exceeding $500.”

The defendants’ counteroffer proposed that they collectively donate $10,000 to the Annie Silver Community Center and encouraged the city to do likewise.

The civil lawsuit filed by the city and co-plaintiff Jack Clarke seeks a judge’s ruling as to whether the six defendants – all of whom were commission-appointed city advisory board members at the time –  violated the Florida Sunshine Law by discussing their official city business outside of properly noticed public meetings.

Those 2017 discussions occurred during Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) meetings at the Annie Silver Community Center, the Pines Trailer Park and through private email exchanges. Those email exchanges and recordings of the CNOBB meetings were later obtained by the city’s legal team.

Commission discussion

During the work meeting, Perry said Shults and Mapes’ attorney, Jim Dye, asked her to ask the commission if the “acknowledgment of errors” language was negotiable.

“I think we’ve been very consistent with our settlement offer with regards to acknowledging errors were made. Nothing’s changed,” Chappie said.

Participating from afar by cell phone, Commissioner Randy White expressed support for the counteroffer.

“Let’s just break bread. I think we should just close this out,” White said.

“We’ve been consistent from the very beginning,” Chappie said, adding that the commission is concerned about openness and transparency in government. “I just can’t back away from that.”

“We didn’t ask them to have meetings outside of city hall. We didn’t ask them to do any of the stuff they allegedly did,” Cole said.

“I do think they do need to acknowledge they made mistakes. ‘May’ is not there, it’s a way to put a spin on it,” Cole added.

“It’s just the stubbornness of a couple of the defendants,” Spooner said. “It’s all about that word ‘may’ even though every deposition that goes by more comes out and makes it more apparent that it’s obvious that mistakes were made. That’s why we’re still here today.”

Maro said she thought the city’s offer and the request for an admission of errors was fair.

“This is our best offer. It’s not going to get any better,” Spooner said before the votes were cast.

“I think it’s pretty clear, our motion stands as is,” Chappie added.

After the meeting, Perry emailed Shults and Dye and informed them the commission was unwilling to negotiate further.

“The offer given to your clients was the ‘best and final’ and the ‘may’ provision is not up for debate,” Perry wrote. “Absent some concession by the defendants as to the mistakes made, my client is absolutely committed to seeing this out to the end.”