Bradenton Beach mayor drops legal challenge

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said one of his first thoughts after winning the Nov. 5 election was that he was, for all intents and purposes, suing himself.

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would win the election,” said Shearon. “After realizing that I had won, I said, ‘Wait a minute. I’m suing myself.’”

According to court documents filed Nov. 12 in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, Shearon voluntarily dropped out of a lawsuit he filed with two other city residents.

The trio filed the lawsuit against the city in June 2012 following the city’s decision to enter into a joint development agreement with ELRA, Ed Chiles’ BeachHouse restaurant corporation, to construct a dune and parking lot next to the restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach.

The dune has since been constructed, but if the plaintiffs win, the dune could be removed and the beach restored as it was before the agreement.

Chiles, who is not named in the lawsuit, has held off on the parking lot portion of the agreement until the dispute is resolved. But the BeachHouse already uses the area for its valet parking lot.

The city entered the agreement after weeks of contention from citizens and the planning and zoning board, whose members recommended denying the agreement. The P&Z board cited various violations of the city’s comprehensive plan and land development codes in their findings against the plan.

Strong words from former Commissioner Ric Gatehouse, who questioned the P&Z members’ motives in their decision, and city attorney Ricinda Perry, who called into question the qualifications of the P&Z members, led to multiple resignations.

Jo Ann Meilner and Shearon were among the P&Z members to resign and, along with Shearon’s personal and business partner, Tjet Martin, filed the lawsuit.

Martin was recently appointed to the Scenic Waves Partnership Committee — a city commission advisory board — by the former administration.

The suit continues with Meilner and Martin as plaintiffs and the case has had little movement since it was filed. The plaintiffs offered arbitration to end the case, but the former administration rejected their offer. Commissioners proposed mediation, which was rejected by the plaintiffs.

Shearon said there was no other option for him as mayor but to drop out of the lawsuit.

“I dropped out so that there is no confusion and no conflicts of interest,” he said. “I also no longer retain the attorney Ralf Brookes or have any responsibility with Mr. Brookes or this case.”

When asked if he would recuse himself in future proceedings involving the case, Shearon said he was told he is “free and clear” to vote on decisions pertaining to the case, but that he would not take that step until he felt certain that no conflicts exist.

“I’ll have to get advice from the city attorney on that,” said Shearon. “I’m taking every step to make sure the legal and responsible thing is done, but the first step was to get myself out of the case.”

Shearon said the next step is to wait and see, but assured the public that he would not involve himself in decisions pertaining to the lawsuit if there is any indication of impropriety.

“So right now, I’m in total limbo until I can sit down with the city attorney and see what my legal standing is,” he said.

Shearon was sworn in as mayor Nov. 18.

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