An inquiry into Holmes Beach Commissioner Marvin Grossman’s homesteaded status on real estate investments by fellow Commissioner David Zaccagnino last week launched a flurry of retaliatory remarks at an Oct. 10 work session.
Letters admonishing Zaccagnino were read into the record by Grossman, as well as Commissioner Judy Titsworth and an email exchange involving Mayor Carmel Monti titled “bad politics” called it an “obvious attempt to discredit Marvin.”
The matter was introduced by Grossman, who first criticized Zaccagnino from the dais and then from the chamber floor following the meeting. At one point, while in close proximity, Grossman pointed his finger at the chest of Zaccagnino.
Zaccagnino originally brought rumors that Grossman was homesteading two properties — one on and one off the island — to the attention of city attorney Patricia Petruff.
But Grossman’s off-island rental property, as it turned out, was purchased while homesteaded by its previous owner, which automatically continues on the property record until the end of the year.
The property was placed in ownership of the Jane A. Grossman Trust, Marvin Grossman’s wife.
Zaccagnino said the rumors were that Grossman was attempting to homestead a second property by using his wife’s trust for his residence in order to lower property taxes.
While sharp words were exchanged on and off the dais, the situation has intensified with a recent exchange of emails between Zaccagnino and an attorney retained by the Grossmans.
In an email dated Oct. 14 from the law office of Barnes, Walker, Goethe and Hoonhout, attorney Adron Walker characterized Zaccagnino’s alleged directive for city attorney Patricia Petruff to investigate the claim as “illegal.”
Walker demanded Zaccagnino “cease and desist from your current insinuation … that Marvin and Jane were involved in the misrepresentation of the location of their residence for Marvin’s benefit and in evading the payment of real estate taxes.”
Walker accused Zaccagnino of libeling Jane Grossman and, as a private citizen, she “has a right not to be falsely defamed. Further, you have exceeded the scope of your authority and abused the public trust.”
Walker said further accusations would result in legal action.
Zaccagnino thanked city staff at the Oct. 10 meeting for clearing up the rumors, but Walker claimed those comments were disingenuous.
As a financial adviser, Walker said Zaccagnino is “no layman when it comes to financial matters,” and that the commissioner is familiar with real estate matters, given that he owns his Holmes Beach home and two Bradenton condominium units, as well as another Bradenton home.
“That makes you a real estate investor,” Walker wrote. He questioned why Zaccagnino just didn’t call Grossman and “ask him man-to-man.”
Walker closed out his email by saying his law office respects and supports the city commission.
“However, it would be inappropriate for us to stand by and allow our clients … to continue to be embroiled in your investigations that would never have occurred, now or in the future, if you understood how a city government should function,” Walker wrote.
Zaccagnino demands apology
In an email dated Oct. 15, Zaccagnino responded to Walker, saying the attorney’s letter is as far from the truth as he can imagine.
“I feel sorry that you have been misinformed and hope that you decide to redact your letter to me and apologize, as I have sent it to our police chief because I feel you are harassing me as a public official and slandarizing me in this public document,” said Zaccagnino.
“For one, I, as well as other commissioners, have the complete authority to contact the city attorney as we see the need,” he said.
Zaccagnino said he did not direct city staff to investigate Grossman. That was done by Mayor Carmel Monti and his assistant Mary Buonagura, who launched the investigation after being informed of Zaccagnino’s inquiry to the city attorney.
“Your letter should be addressed to them,” Zaccagnino wrote. “I simply made a call to our attorney saying I heard a rumor about Marvin,” and “I wanted to make sure that our city was protected if he was not a resident.”
He also said he never mentioned Jane Grossman in his inquiry to the city attorney. He maintains Marvin’s wife was referenced after the fact by Buonagura.
Furthermore, “Marvin himself and the mayor made this incident public record, not me,” said Zaccagnino. “Marvin even belabored it in a public meeting, reading it into the record. As a matter of fact, your threatening letter to me is now public record. We already have one Holmes Beach commissioner being sued for slander and liable, I hope you’re not next.”
Zaccagnino said Walker’s references about him not knowing how government works after eight years on the dais were “very, very disrespectful.”
Zaccagnino said nothing else needed to be discussed because he uses Walker’s law firm for his own business matters and, “I believe this may be a conflict for your firm.”