Public records request vexes Bradenton Beach

No one claims to know why a public records request was submitted to the city of Bradenton Beach to garner city-related emails from four former planning and zoning board members, and the expert legal consultant specializing in email public record requests isn’t saying.

“As you know, the public records act does not require a citizen to reveal the purpose of making a public records request,” stated Michael Barfield, of Sarasota, who submitted the request.

Barfield was asked what his intentions were by making the request, but declined to answer.

“To do so would not advance transparency laws because the next time a reporter or citizen makes a request, they might think they are required to reveal a purpose,” he stated.

The request includes city-related emails pertaining to former P&Z members Jo Ann Meilner, Rick Bisio, Joyce Kramer and Bill Shearon from Jan. 1 through their final day as members of P&Z.

Barfield has a history on the island after submitting public records requests before the 2010 successful recall effort of former Anna Maria Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus.

Emails obtained by Barfield determined that Stoltzfus secretly agreed to seek funds for a lawsuit against the city and to see Pine Avenue Restoration buildings bulldozed.

One of the people Barfield was assisting in the Anna Maria case was Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria and the BeachHouse Restaurant in Bradenton Beach.

The BeachHouse Restaurant is at the center of a lawsuit filed against the city, though Chiles is not a defendant in the case.

A joint development agreement between ELRA Inc., the restaurant corporation spearheaded by Chiles, was entered into by Bradenton Beach commissioners in May, but not before the P&Z recommended the agreement be rejected.

Meilner, Shearon, Bisio and Kramer resigned in the days and weeks following a contentious May commission meeting. City attorney Ricinda Perry said the P&Z members were not qualified to make such a recommendation and Commissioner Ric Gatehouse accused the members of presenting a “tainted and biased” recommendation.

Bisio resigned immediately after the meeting. Shearon resigned the following day. Kramer resigned later that week and Meilner asked for an apology — but did not receive one — from commissioners at the next commission meeting. She submitted her resignation the following day.

P&Z recommended denial due to a parking lot expansion for the BeachHouse Restaurant being included in a dune construction project. The agreement calls for ELRA to pay for the lion’s share of the project and, in exchange, about a dozen extra parking spaces would be created for the restaurant.

P&Z said in their recommendation a parking lot on the beach violates the city charter and land development codes.

While Barfield and Chiles have a history together, Barfield told The Islander he is not representing Chiles in his request to seek emails from Meilner, Shearon, Bisio and Kramer.

“I was not retained by Ed Chiles or anyone connected with him to make the request,” said Barfield.

Perry said she was as surprised as anyone to see the requests and said the city had nothing to do with it.

Barfield confirmed that statement.

“I am not involved with making the request on behalf of the city or connected in any way with making the request on behalf of the city,” he said.

The city is currently in discussion about an option brought forth in October by Meilner to settle the lawsuit via binding mediation. Perry said arbitration is not an option, but did not rule out mediation, saying there was a difference between the two.

In November, commissioners held a shade meeting to discuss the offer, but did not release any new information as to their intentions.

As of press time, only Meilner had responded to the public records request.

Thus far, the only email submitted for review is Meilner’s email to Kramer announcing her intention to resign from the P&Z board.

“I can’t justify the frustration and heartache anymore,” she wrote in that June email.

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