HB commissioner clears up Mainsail ethics conflict

Sunrise Lane was a sticking point in the Mainsail Lodge development plans through many months of negotiations between the city of Holmes Beach, the Mainsail and residents along the short, private road.

The city of Holmes Beach and Mainsail reached a tentative agreement Sept. 4 with one of the developer’s concessions being to remove a proposed building from the boundary of Sunrise Lane at the development site near the intersection of Gulf and Marina drives.

Mayor Carmel Monti, Commissioner Judy Titsworth and city attorney Patricia Petruff represented the city in negotiations, but questions lingered over whether Titsworth’s involvement was a conflict. She resides on Sunrise Lane, as do some of her family members.

There are seven homes on the private road owned by residents and Mainsail, including Titsworth’s parents, Jean and Hugh Holmes Sr.

She said in June that she discussed her Mainsail involvement with the Florida Commission on Ethics and received a verbal opinion that she had no conflict with regard to the Mainsail proceedings.

There have been those who have disagreed — including some representatives of Mainsail Lodge — with that assessment throughout the process, but Titsworth tried to put those concerns to rest at the Sept. 24 city commission meeting when she presented a Sept. 6 letter from the ethics commission.

Betsy Daly, senior attorney for the ethics commission, said Titsworth’s involvement was reviewed and no conflict of interest was found.

“In interpreting the voting conflicts law … the commission has found no special private gain to exist in situations where impact of a vote on the public officer’s interests or the officer’s relative’s interests is uncertain at the time of the vote,” wrote Daly. “In such a situation, the impact of the vote would be remote and speculative and, thus, not a voting conflict.”

Daly went on to write that the interpretation is based on information provided by Titsworth in ensuring that property appraisers have told her the property value of her home would not go up or down based solely on the Mainsail development.

Titsworth said she sent the ethics commission information about her property and those of her family members and noted the fact that she was financially tied to the project through contracts with the previous developer.

“As you can see, they responded to everything I told them and they said ‘No problem,’” she said. “It would be remote and speculative, and that’s not a voting conflict.”

While Daly’s interpretation set some at ease, particularly city attorney Patricia Petruff, who praised Titsworth for getting documentation to support the previous verbal approval, not everyone was satisfied.

During public comment, resident Maureen Shuman said it was good that Titsworth got an opinion, but opinions and public perception are two different things.

“In the interest of the city, I still feel you should recuse yourself,” said Shuman. “I have a problem with you voting on this issue.”

Titsworth “I can’t recuse myself because I don’t have a conflict.” She said she accepted the verbal opinion early on that she does not have a conflict of interest in the Mainsail process.

Florida laws require that officials vote with few exceptions, including recusal for a conflict of interest.

The two sides concluded negotiations Sept. 4 with Mainsail agreeing to most of what the city asked, including the removal of three buildings and the merger of two remaining buildings into the main lodge.

A tentative draft agreement written by Mainsail attorney Robert Lincoln is being reviewed by the mediation team. If it is to their satisfaction, it will be brought before the commission for a vote.

If the city approves the agreement, it will pave the way for Mainsail to submit a new site plan. Any plan will be reviewed by the building department and planning commission and come back to the commission for approval.

The negotiations, however, did not include an ongoing dispute with two unrelated Sunrise Lane owners.

The only outcome in the mediation process for those two property owners was a provision that Mainsail would work with them on a private agreement, and that Mainsail would assist the city if any Sunrise Lane resident should initiate legal action against the city.

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