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Holmes Beach officials get shady with Sunshine Law

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

Holmes Beach officials have faced two accusations of violating the Sunshine Law since July.

One violation is alleged to have occurred regarding a July 8 City Center Committee meeting and the other occurred at an Oct. 8 city commission meeting.

The City Center Committee was put together by Mayor Carmel Monti to look at traffic flow, congestion and beautification of an area near Gulf and Marina drives.

The first meeting of the committee was in July, but was allegedly held in violation of the Sunshine Law, as it was conducted outside of the public eye and not properly noticed as a public meeting.

According to city clerk Stacey Johnston, she was unaware of the meeting until the group arrived at city hall, at which time she inquired as to whether the meeting was noticed to the public.

Johnston said she was told by Monti that it was not a public meeting. But as it was an advisory group to the commission, Johnston said it was.

The meeting continued despite the warning and Johnston received confirmation via city attorney Patricia Petruff that the meetings must be public and also must be noticed.

The committee met again in August and September and both meetings were open to the public and noticed as such.

Monti was involved in another Sunshine incident at the Oct. 8 city commission meeting when he passed a note to Commissioner Judy Titsworth. Members of the public called Islander Publisher Bonner Joy to say this was a frequent activity on the dais.

Joy arrived at the meeting and during public comment confronted the commission, demanding to see the content of the note. Monti said nothing while Titsworth denied the existence of the note.

Petruff said if there was a note and it contained city business, that it was public record, but was unclear if materials containing private messages would qualify as public record.

Titsworth wrote a letter to the editor dated Oct. 9 apologizing to the public, saying at the time of Joy’s request, she did not remember a note being passed to her, but was reminded by Monti later that night.

“After the meeting, I was explaining the story to my husband when the mayor called,” wrote Titsworth. “He had gone through his papers and reminded me of a note that he had written on his pad.”

Titsworth said she was embarrassed that she had forgotten about the note from Monti which read, “Everybody is being so nice tonight … What’s up with that?”

Titsworth acknowledged the note, but said in her letter that the action between herself and the mayor was legal.

Samuel Morley, general counsel for the Florida Press Association, disagreed.

In an email to Joy, Morley said, “Board members may not use notes or computers to conduct private discussions among themselves about board business.”

Morley said board members may share a laptop that contains ideas of a member, “as long as the computer is not being used as a means of communication between the members.”

Morley cites two Florida Attorney General opinions regarding Sunshine violations.

Neither Monti nor Petruff were available for comment, as of Islander press time.

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