Commission considers, rejects three Sunshine lawsuit settlements

Commission considers and rejects three Sunshine settlements
City Commissioners and the city's legal team gathered for an attorney-client shade meeting Friday afternoon. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – Bradenton Beach commissioners have rejected three proposed Sunshine Law lawsuit settlement offers.

Earlier that day, Friday, June 28, lawsuit defendants Bill Vincent, Rose Vincent and Patty Shay agreed to the proposed settlement terms brokered on the city’s behalf by attorney Robert Watrous and paralegal Michael Barfield.

Shay and Bill Vincent served as Planning and Zoning Board members when the alleged Sunshine Law violations occurred in 2017. Rose Vincent served on the city’s Scenic WAVES Committee.

Commission considers and rejects three Sunshine settlements
Lawsuit defendants Bill and Rose Vincent (second and third from left) proposed settlements city commissioners later rejected. Also shown at this recent court hearing are ex-mayor Bill Shearon and co-defendants Tjet Martin and Reed Mapes. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Mayor John Chappie and Commissioners Ralph Cole, Marilyn Maro and Jake Spooner discussed and unanimously rejected all three proposed settlements during a shade meeting that occurred late Friday afternoon. Commissioner Randy White did not attend the shade meeting.

The attorney-client shade meeting allowed the commission to privately discuss the proposed settlements and the city’s legal strategies with Watrous and City Attorney Ricinda Perry.

The shade meeting took place in the downstairs conference room at the Bradenton Beach police station. The meeting opened in a public manner before the media and Barfield were asked to leave. After approximately 90 minutes of private discussion, the meeting was reconvened in public and the commission’s decisionmaking occurred.

Spooner made a motion to deny all three settlement offers. The motion passed by a 4-0 vote with no additional discussion.

Spooner and Chappie then crafted a second motion directing Watrous to draft a cover letter to send to the defendants. The letter will state the denials of the settlement offers and that the commission will not entertain any settlement offers that do not include all six defendants acknowledging they violated the Sunshine Law.

The letter will also state that the commission and the city’s taxpayers want reasonable and significant payment from the defendants for the attorney fees the city has incurred.

“I would like that cover letter to reiterate our strengths in the case,” Chappie added.

The commission unanimously adopted the second motion and adjourned the meeting.

On June 20, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas ruled in favor of the city’s preliminary argument that it was reasonably foreseeable that a parking garage is an issue that would come before the Planning and Zoning Board if proposed.

“I can say with 100 percent certainty – not reasonably foreseeability, but absolute certainty – that this is a very issue that should and would come before a planning and zoning board,” Nicholas said that day.

The bench trial is scheduled to begin on Monday, July 15 and is expected to take at least five days to complete.

Proposed settlements

The Vincents expressed interest in their proposed settlement agreements on Friday morning after Rose Vincent’s scheduled deposition was canceled. Bradenton Beach Marina president Mike Bazzy’s deposition was also canceled, but he will testify at the trial regarding his conversations with city officials about a parking facility.

Commission considers and rejects three Sunshine settlements
Former Planning and Zoning Board member Bill Vincent was willing to admit that errors were made regarding Sunshine Law compliance. – Media Pool | Submitted

The deposition cancellations occurred after the parties had already arrived at the court reporters’ office in Bradenton. Shay’s proposed settlement terms were finalized later that day after being discussed with her earlier in the week.

Shay and Bill Vincent served as Planning and Zoning Board members when the alleged Sunshine Law violations occurred in 2017. Their proposed settlement agreements acknowledged errors were made regarding Sunshine Law compliance. Those errors occurred during Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) meeting discussions and/or email exchanges in 2017.

Shay and Bill Vincent’s proposed settlement terms were essentially the same terms the city proposed and all six defendants rejected in March.

Commission considers and rejects three Sunshine settlements
Former Planning and Zoning Board member Patty Shay was willing to acknowledge that errors occurred regarding Sunshine Law compliance. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

“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,” the March settlement offer said.

Friday marked the first time any of the defendants agreed to settlement terms that included an admission of Sunshine Law violations. It was also the first time the commission considered settlement offers that did not pertain to all six defendants.

Rose Vincent’s proposed settlement differed slightly and acknowledged only that Sunshine Law errors may have occurred. This resembled a settlement counteroffer the defendants made in March, which the commission rejected.

Shay and the Vincents also offered to pay the city $500 each.

Co-defendants and former planning and zoning board members Reed Mapes and John Metz did not propose new settlement offers, nor did co-defendant and former Scenic WAVES Committee member Tjet Martin.

All six defendants served on city advisory boards when the alleged Sunshine violations occurred in May, June and July of 2017. The lawsuit alleges the advisory board members violated the Sunshine Law by discussing parking garage prohibitions and Community Redevelopment Agency projects that had and could again come before them in their official capacities as city board members.

At CNOBB’s July 25, 2017, steering committee meeting, Mapes twice initiated a discussion about CNOBB potentially pursuing a citizen-initiated charter amendment that would have prohibited parking garages citywide. Metz and Bill Vincent then expressed their opposition to parking garages and Shay and Martin provided additional comments. That meeting was recorded and posted at the CNOBB website.

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