HB commission cleared of alleged ‘shade meeting’ violation

Holmes Beach commissioners met in the “shade” to discuss a tree house lawsuit, but no Sunshine violation was found.

Holmes Beach commissioners held a meeting behind closed doors in August 2013 with city attorneys Jim Dye and Patricia Petruff regarding litigation over the tree house on the beachfront of Angelinos Sea Lodge, 2818 Ave. E, Holmes Beach.

The meeting, closed to the public, was called a shade meeting, a play on the state’s broad public record laws, known as the Sunshine Law.

Attorney David Levin, on behalf of the owners of the tree house, alleged the shade meeting violated the Sunshine Law.

The Bradenton Police Department investigated the case after Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer recused himself from the investigation.

The case was handled by investigator Nicol L. Scholer at the direction of Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski.

BPD began investigating the alleged violation in October 2013, and Tokajer presented the city commission with the report May 27.

The city was cleared by Scholer of any wrongdoing, and the report was submitted to the state attorney’s office the same day.

Levin contacted the state attorney’s office in September 2013 following the shade meeting, which was called by Petruff to discuss litigation strategy related to the tree house, which has since been found to be in violation of city codes and state laws.

Shade meetings can be considered an allowable exemption to the Sunshine Law if the meeting is a litigation strategy session between the attorney and client. The meetings are limited to guidance of the legal team in cost and settlement strategy.

Minutes are required for the shade meeting and they become public record once the case is closed.

The city is still waiting on the conclusion of cases seeking to declare owners Lynn Tran’s and Richard Hazen’s petition to retain their beachfront tree house, despite numerous violations.

The couple’s appeal of the code enforcement board’s ruling and an appeal of the city’s final administrative order to remove the structure or rectify its non-compliant status also are pending action in the courts.

The most recent development in the case was a circuit court order to stop daily fines of $100 imposed by the city until the legal proceedings are concluded.

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