City attorney deposed for Sunshine lawsuit

City attorney deposed for Sunshine lawsuit
City Attorney Ricinda Perry. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON – Attorney Thomas Shults spent six hours deposing City Attorney Ricinda Perry under oath.

Perry’s videotaped deposition took place Wednesday, March 20 at the Manatee County Judicial Center in Bradenton. The deposition was part of the ongoing pre-trial discovery process in the Sunshine Law lawsuit the city of Bradenton Beach and co-plaintiff Jack Clarke filed in 2017.

Shults spent much of the day posing questions unrelated or distantly related to the city’s efforts to obtain a judge’s ruling as to whether defendants Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, John Metz, Patty Shay, Bill Vincent and Rose Vincent violated the Florida Sunshine Law while serving on a city advisory board in 2017. At the time, the six defendants were also members of the non-city-affiliated Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) group.

Among other things, the civil lawsuit alleges the advisory board members violated the Sunshine Law when discussing CNOBB’s potential pursuit of a charter amendment that would prohibit parking garages. The lawsuit complaint states parking garages were previously discussed by the Planning and Zoning Board that included Mapes, Metz, Shay and Bill Vincent and could have foreseeably come before those individuals again in their official capacities.

Shults spent the first 80 minutes questioning Perry about her education, bar exams, electronic communications and role as the city attorney. He spent the next 60 minutes questioning her about the 2018 lawsuit the Keep Our Residential Neighborhoods (KORN) political action committee filed against the city.

The KORN lawsuit was filed after the city commission rejected the group’s request to place four petition-initiated charter amendment questions on the 2018 city ballot. Judge Lon Arend recently ruled the KORN amendments must be placed on a future ballot.

Attorney Robert Watrous, representing the city and Clarke, accused Shults of engaging in discovery for the KORN lawsuit instead of the Sunshine lawsuit. Mapes and Metz served as KORN officers.

Two and a half hours into the deposition, Shults referenced a 2015 Arizona court ruling that may support Metz’s affirmative defense argument questioning whether the Florida Sunshine Law is unconstitutional because it infringes on an individual’s First Amendment right to free speech. Shults also referenced a recent Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that struck down a provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act the court deemed unconstitutionally vague.

“I pay attention to Florida law,” Perry said.

Parking garages

Three hours into the deposition, Shults asked Perry if anyone ever applied for a permit to build a parking garage in Bradenton Beach. Perry said she didn’t know because the city was founded in the 1950s and she has not been the city attorney that entire time.

When asked if anyone applied to build a parking garage during her time as city attorney, Perry said that would be a question for City Planner Alan Garrett or Building Official Steve Gilbert. She noted that in 2016 then-mayor Bill Shearon proposed partnering with Manatee County to build a parking garage near the public works building.

Perry said she reached out to the CNOBB members before the lawsuit was filed and encouraged them to refrain from engaging in discussions that could result in Sunshine violations. She said those efforts included a written appeal to Shearon to take preventative action – a request Shearon didn’t act upon.

Perry also noted CNOBB meeting recordings posted at the CNOBB website were later disposed of by website administrator Michael Harrington, which he acknowledged when deposed under oath.

Shults referenced a recording of the July 25, 2017, CNOBB meeting and asked Perry if she heard Metz use the term “parking garage” when she previously listened to the recording.

“I heard enough to know Mr. Metz participated in a conversation that violated the Sunshine Law,” Perry said.

On that recording, Metz can be heard sharing his thoughts on whether CNOBB should pursue a parking garage prohibition.

“I say that we do and that we put it more that no parking garage built for public paid parking or something like that. It doesn’t matter whether it’s by the municipality or some huge corporation,” Metz said during the July 25 meeting.

Perry said she also heard Mapes and Shay on the recording.

“I know they were talking about city business and taking votes,” she added.

CNOBB ultimately decided not to pursue a parking garage prohibition, but KORN later took up that initiative.

Shults’ last line of questioning pertained to several disputes Metz has had with city officials and city staff.

“When I look at Mr. Metz, I see a man who is probably so unhappy. He’s widowed and has absolutely no relevance as an attorney anymore because he’s not licensed in Florida. He wants some semblance of validity and some purpose to serve. I actually feel very sorry for him,” Perry said.

At 5 p.m., Shults adjourned the deposition and said he would set a date for its continuance. Watrous objected to setting more deposition time for Perry. Shults said he would seek a court order if needed.

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