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Date of Issue: April 14, 2010

Fernandez is attorney for PAR

Coleman

Mike Coleman last week announced what many in Anna Maria suspected or knew: His company, Pine Avenue Restoration, had retained an attorney in addition to Ricinda Perry “early on,” he said, to “protect the record and our rights.” That attorney is Valerie Fernandez.

Fernandez subsequently hired public records expert Michael Barfield to obtain and analyze the communications relating to city matters of Anna Maria Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus and city planning board member Jim Conoly through a public records request.

Barfield also has requested the e-mails pertaining to public business of Cathy Stoltzfus, wife of the commissioner, along with those of city residents Robin Wall, Nicky Hunt and former Commissioner Duke Miller.

Barfield has alleged that Commissioner Stoltzfus and the others named in his public records requests formed a “shadow government” in the city that may have operated outside of Florida’s Sunshine laws.

“PAR has consistently operated according to the codes and ordinances of the city, but we have heard and seen evidence that PAR was being targeted behind the scenes,” Coleman said. “We thought it necessary and responsible to establish the facts on the record.”

“Our legal counsel engaged Mr. Barfield knowing of his past transgressions,” Coleman said. “He was forthcoming about his past and he has paid the price” for any wrongdoing. “He is now a citizen in good standing. “If the objective is to get at the truth of the public record, however hidden or manipulated, Mr. Barfield is the recognized expert in that field.

“Efforts by Commissioner Stoltzfus to distract the message by attacking the messenger are yet another example of his practice of hiding his real agenda behind a manufactured one.”

Coleman said he believes the e-mails obtained thus far indicate Harry Stoltzfus was targeting PAR.

“The record is the record and we will let it speak for itself,” he said.

But, he said, “Many decent citizens voted for Commissioner Stoltzfus. Only a very isolated few voted for this.”

The basis of the Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine law is to preserve the public’s right to know. According to the Government in the Sunshine Web site, the Florida Supreme Court determined that public records are all materials made or received by an agency in connection with official business that are used to perpetuate, communicate or formalize knowledge. Public records are subject to inspection unless a statutory exemption exists.

And to allow the maker or sender of documents to dictate the circumstances under which documents are deemed confidential would permit private parties instead of the Legislature to determine which public records are public and which are not.

Additionally, nothing in the law requires the requestor to disclose the reason for the request.

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