A Jan. 17 signal from the Bradenton Beach dais indicated the long-standing feud with Center for Municipal Solutions’ Lawrence “Rusty” Monroe over cell tower application reviews was coming to an end.
But whatever flag of truce was expected to be raised was quickly lowered at a Feb. 7 city commission meeting when city attorney Ricinda Perry pointed out some potential contractual landmines if the city continues on pace to sign a consulting contract with Monroe.
The contract came before commissioners before the amendments to the ordinance — originally written by Monroe — were completed.
Perry said those amendments are not done because Monroe is disputing most of her suggested changes.
Commissioner Ric Gatehouse first called the ordinance into question a few months ago, saying the ordinance was ambiguous, designed to financially benefit Monroe at the expense of local business and removed too much city authority.
Perry summed up her argument against signing the contract by suggesting nothing has changed.
She said city planner Alan Garrett was “carving a special exception on shorter antennas and we discovered more changes were needed, specifically Mr. Monroe’s fees.”
Gatehouse said he has been communicating with Monroe via email and he has received mostly positive responses regarding the changes he sought. The commissioner said he believed a deal was close at hand.
“Unlike Commissioner Gatehouse, I did not receive positive responses to the contract negotiations,” said Perry. “I received one agreement to many objections I had. Legally, I feel it is one sided and does not look out for the interests of the city.”
Gatehouse said the contract rests on the legality of the ordinance.
“We need to fix the ordinance before we sign a contract,” he said. “The old ordinance will put us right back where we were three or four months ago.”
Commissioners have expressed interest in moving the cell tower process along, but “I don’t want to rush into a bad deal,” said Gatehouse.
Mayor John Shaughnessy agreed.
“I want to move this along, but by the same token, do not want to do anything that will come back and bite us,” he said.
Commissioners asked Perry to enter back into negotiations with Monroe in hopes of bringing the issue to the next commission meeting.
Perry said she would act on the commission’s direction, but did not believe she would be able to come to terms with Monroe.
“I don’t think we will come to terms with the consulting agreement,” she said. “I need to know if you need me to fight for this or let it go.”
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said she wasn’t comfortable with continuing contract talks.
“I think Mr. Monroe has been very difficult to work with,” she said. “I thought all of this was resolved the last time he was mad at us. Then all of a sudden, it’s back in front of us. I think it’s unprofessional.”
Jim Eatrides of Alpha Omega Communications suggested the city back off redoing the ordinance, saying it will be needed if negotiations with Monroe break down.
“That’s an enormous amount of work,” he said.
Perry said the city could have a new ordinance prepared in about two months and pointed out her biggest concerns.
She said the contract gives authority for Monroe to do work without city authorization. When Perry tried to strike that from the contract, she said Monroe declined.
Commissioners balked at the notion.
“Monroe’s concept of how this thing works is very different from ours,” said Gatehouse. “We are not trying to hire a telecommunications czar. We are looking to engage a consultant to be available as required.”
Perry said if commissioners sign the contract, the city would lose authority to delegate work to Monroe, who would have the power to charge the city for unauthorized work.
Commissioner Gay Breuler said if Monroe can’t agree to the city’s concerns, “We won’t have anything to do with you.”
Perry said Monroe also refused to budge on the city paying for an applicant that pulls out of a review.
“Mr. Monroe wants payment for any service and use of the city as a catchall,” she said. “An applicant would be required to set up an escrow account that Mr. Monroe could draw from but he wants a safety net that guarantees the city would pay the balance. I did not like that and wanted it removed. He would not agree to that.”
Perry wanted to include a paragraph that Monroe is responsible for all out-of-pocket costs, “and he wishes to strike that paragraph.”
The third of Perry’s primary concerns is Monroe’s refusal to agree to language that would allow the city to terminate its contract with him if he were to be found doing anything illegal.
“I’m not sure why he objects to that,” she said. “This is a provision that if he does something illegal under the law, we can get rid of him. I put that language in here, but he will not agree to any aspect of termination.”
Perry had other disagreements with the proposed contract, and said, “I 100 percent disagree with Mr. Monroe. I hope we can work this out, but I don’t think we will. What I need to know is whether or not I take a hard line on these negotiations.”
Commissioners agreed that Perry raised sufficient concern on key points. They agreed not to concede many of her points, and directed her to continue negotiations for two more weeks to see if Monroe would change his mind.
“See if he’s willing to give and we’ll make a decision in two weeks,” said Shaughnessy.