During public comment at a Nov. 1 Bradenton Beach city meeting, city resident Jo Ann Meilner accused Commissioner Ric Gatehouse of throwing mud at consultant Lawrence “Rusty” Monroe of Center for Municipal Services over the ongoing cell tower issue.
Gatehouse called the ordinance drafted by Monroe for the city obstructionist and financially beneficial to CMS. He asked the commission to repeal or amend it.
Monroe has since said he will no longer work with the city, but a handful of citizens remain outspoken in defense of CMS and the agreement the city entered under a former administration.
Meilner said the ordinance was written and reviewed according to city rules.
“CMS’s work and integrity is unparalleled,” said Meilner, who noted the commissioners should understand their own ordinances. “You violated the agreement with CMS,” she told commissioners.
Meilner then singled out Gatehouse, saying, “Ric, you seem to be prone to throw mud at any issue you don’t like.”
Meilner’s depiction of Gatehouse as a mudslinger did not sit well with the commissioner, but Mayor John Shaughnessy previously recommended commissioners not respond to public comment deemed to be negative.
Gatehouse complied with that request. However, he spoke to The Islander Nov. 2 to respond to the accusations levied by Meilner and others.
“I want the citizens to know I am not a mudslinger,” said Gatehouse. “I never say anything without thoroughly researching it and having facts at hand to back up my statements.”
Gatehouse said when he first looked at the cell tower ordinance, a number of issues were identified that could create problems for the city due to the ordinance restricting the city’s control over the process and fee structure.
“This could result in a third party holding local businesses for ransom,” said Gatehouse, who noted it has happened.
“During my investigation of the AMI Radio application, I found my fears had already been realized,” he said.
Gatehouse said when AMI submitted its application, it first appeared city staff could handle it, and Monroe was contacted as a courtesy.
“But Monroe insisted this application was under his purview and that he was to be the sole reviewer under the ordinance,” said Gatehouse. “The ambiguity of the ordinance in this regard left the staff with their hands tied.”
Gatehouse said CMS then solicited funds from AMI Radio to even consider its application, saying that amounted to extortion.
“CMS sidestepped city involvement and directly communicated with AMI Radio to solicit substantial fee amounts to be paid by AMI directly to CMS via check in order for CMS to even look at this application,” he said.
Gatehouse said the amount solicited by CMS just to look at their application was $1,000.
“This is exactly the kind of situation that I foresaw happening,” he said. “It is inappropriate and outrageous that a third party should directly solicit funds from local businesses in order to perform a review that should be done in-house at city hall in the first place.”
Gatehouse said Monroe’s prior protests of his comments, as well as Meilner’s “glowing recommendations of CMS,” would not deter him from looking out for Bradenton Beach businesses.
“As long as I am sitting on this commission, I will not allow our local businesses and citizens to be subjected to this kind of outrageous behavior,” he said.