It is customary in Bradenton Beach for the city commission to award volunteers certificates of appreciation for their service when they leave a board or committee.
Apparently, timing is everything.
At an Oct. 19 city commission meeting, an agenda item to award certificates to nine former members of city boards was amended to only include those members who are not being sued by the city.
Nine board members have resigned since Aug. 7, when the city voted to join a lawsuit initiated by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke for alleged Sunshine Law violations against then-planning and zoning board members Reed Mapes, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill Vincent, along with Scenic Waves Partnership Committee chair Tjet Martin and Waves member Rose Vincent.
Scenic Waves chair Carl Parks and members John Reed and Bona Lee Wortman also resigned in August.
Mayor Bill Shearon had included recognition for the former board members on the Oct. 19 agenda.
But as the meeting began, Commissioner John Chappie, who is challenging Shearon in the Nov. 7 election for the mayor’s seat, asked to remove the recognition for the six former board members targeted in the Clarke lawsuit.
“Because we are not sure if there is a conflict, I think we need to remove the names of the people in litigation and take it up after litigation is complete,” Chappie said. “They served many good years, it’s important that we recognize them, but at a later date.”
Shearon said city clerk Terri Sanclemente expressed concern when he submitted the request to her for board recognition on the agenda.
He then spoke with attorney Mark Barnebey of Blalock Walters P.A. of Bradenton about the recognition.
According to Shearon, Barnebey said it would not be a problem to award certificates to the six board members named in the lawsuit, since they were being recognized for work done in the past.
“I still think it would be a mistake not to recognize them for their years of service prior to the litigation,” Shearon said. “That could go into the record.”
Chappie said he was concerned that Shearon wanted anything to go on the record, as the commission is not supposed to discuss the lawsuit outside of shade meetings.
“I just made it as a suggestion,” Shearon replied. “You’re taking it out of context.”
A shade meeting is allowed between the city and its attorney to discuss pending litigation providing the attorney advises the city at a public meeting that he or she desires advice on the litigation. The subject matter must be confined to settlement negotiations or strategy related to the expense of the litigation.
City attorney Ricinda Perry told the commission at the meeting that she spoke with the attorneys representing Clake and the city in the suit and they told her that recognizing the members in litigation is inappropriate at this time.
Perry said the recognition would create a conflict that could weaken the city’s position.
Bradenton Beach resident Jim Hassett spoke out of turn and demanded to have his comment heard.
Shearon opened public comment for Hassett, who said he didn’t think Shearon wanted to make his statement on the record for the case, but that he suggested it could be put on record that the certificates recognized their volunteerism before the lawsuit.
“What’s happened is we’ve been slayed again. I shake my head every time,” Hassett said. “There’s a denotation and a connotation in my opinion. No way in hell was he trying to say, ‘I want to get this in the record so it can be used, specifically, in your negotiations.’ My hope is that when you lose the lawsuit, hopefully you’re just as gracious in thanking those people for their service.”
A vote was taken to withhold the certificates of appreciation for the six defendants, to be reconsidered after the lawsuit is concluded.
The motion passed 4-1, with Shearon voting “nay.”