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Date of Issue: March 31, 2010

Stoltzfus: I’ve been wrongly accused

Anna Maria City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus has no plans to quit the city commission over accusations that he used e-mails to discuss city business with other city officials.

Stoltzfus told resident Ken Rickett that he’s been wrongfully accused of violating the law.

Rickett e-mailed the city last week saying he is “appalled at the actions of Commissioner Stoltzfus.

“I hope you have his resignation, as well as any others involved in this deceit. If not, I would hope the other commissioners will show him the door. Please, notify me if a recall effort is needed.”

Stoltzfus responded, “From my perspective, your judgment is hurried.

“There’s much more to this story than what you’ve read in the paper.

“You’ll find I’ve been wrongly accused of violating Sunshine Laws. There is nothing illegal or improper in the way I’ve conducted city business.

“I was elected by the majority of residents in the city because I said I would do everything in my power to fulfill the goals and the policies of our comprehensive plan.

“I am simply fulfilling that promise.”

Stoltzfus also last week called on Mayor Fran Barford to apologize for stating in The Islander that he “totally violated the Sunshine Law.”

She did not.

Among the Stoltzfus e-mails published in The Islander last week, Stoltzfus asked a Sarasota attorney if he could join a lawsuit against the city without being named.

He said in another e-mail that he wanted someone to “bulldoze” Pine Avenue Restoration LLC’s projects on Pine Avenue.

Florida has a Sunshine Law which deals with properly noticed meetings and open government, and a public records law that is concerned with how public officials maintain public records.

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that e-mails and other electronic communications to and from public officials about government business are official records.

Public records must be maintained by the designated clerk of records, according to the statutes, and in the case of Anna Maria, that is the city clerk.

The e-mails obtained in the records request by Barfield were maintained on Stoltzfus’ home computer, and some of the records were retrieved from “deleted” files.

Additionally, some of the records appear to promote the use of a conduit, a third party, to share information between officials, also considered unlawful.

And, some e-mails discuss specific site plan applications before the city that are required to be heard only in a quasi-judicial hearing. All outside communication on such matters in advance of the hearing, whether between officials or members of the public, requires disclosure at the next public hearing.

Because Stoltzfus had been lobbying for the commission to take site-plan approvals for the ROR district from the planning board — and that change was approved recently — a conflict regarding site-plans may have existed between the board and the commission.

The most recent package of 1,262 pages of records is available for the public to view and read on The Islander Web site, www.islander.org.