Residents whose efforts saw success in the Nov. 7 election should be cheering.
Three charter amendments placed on the ballot by Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach were approved by voters.
However, the group is facing a new challenge.
“Some members are concerned about future litigation as a result of our victories,” CNOBB chair Bill Vincent said Nov. 10.
Former Bradenton Beach Mayor Jack Clarke has filed two complaints against CNOBB and some of its members with the Florida Elections Commission.
The complaints come on the heels of a lawsuit filed in August by Clarke against six city board members alleging Sunshine Law violations.
In an Oct. 18 letter to the elections commission, Clarke alleges the group violated state statute by not registering as a political action committee before seeking signatures for the initiatives.
Clarke filed a second complaint against the group Oct. 19 for accepting and disbursing funds exceeding $500 before filing as an organization.
When asked Nov. 11 about the election complaints, Clarke refused to comment on the matter. When asked if he planned to challenge the amendments approved by voters Nov. 7, Clarke responded, “It’s too soon to tell.”
Mayor-elect John Chappie said the city does not plan to challenge the amendments, which are set to be discussed at the Nov. 16 commission meeting.
“The voters have spoken. It’s passed. As far as I’m concerned, it’s part of the charter,” Chappie said. “Now we need to figure out the enabling legislation.”
CNOBB member Tjet Martin, named by Clarke in the complaints, received official notice in letters dated Oct. 27 and Nov. 2 from Erin Riley, FEC deputy clerk.
In a Nov. 8 email response to Riley, Martin wrote she was not aware the group needed to register as a PAC when she was serving as interim co-chair during an absence of chairman Bill Vincent.
In her letter to Riley, Martin writes that she “basically ran meetings” during Vincent’s absence and “had no knowledge nor responsibility that we were required to form as a political committee.”
In previous discussions, the group opted to remain an “educational” organization instead of filing as a PAC, because it did not endorse candidates in the November election.
However, because the group collected signatures from registered electors in support of an initiative, Vincent determined that, according to Florida statutes, they were required to register. The appropriate PAC forms were signed by Vincent and treasurer John Metz and filed with the city Oct. 24.
The city has since cited insufficiencies with the forms as filed, including Martin’s signature as interim chair on the group’s finance report.
“Chair Vincent has now returned, and I am no longer interim co-chair,” Martin wrote Riley in response to this allegation.
Additionally, part of the complaint cites Martin as a “respondent on behalf of CNOBB.”
Martin claims, as shown in a news report included as an exhibit, she was contacted by a reporter regarding CNOBB’s PAC status, but never responded.
“Is there a law that states I have to respond to a reporter? I don’t think so,” Martin wrote.
Martin closed her email to Riley, writing, “Jack Clarke is nothing but a bitter old man with nothing to do but harass citizens that are trying to make a difference in their community as they see the wrongs going on in their city with a crooked attorney. Mr. Clarke also has a lawsuit against six volunteer board members that the city is funding. He doesn’t even know the proper spelling of my name.”
… prompting CNOBB chair to consider dissolution
By ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
“This is not the organization I envisioned,” Bill Vincent, Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach founder and chair, said Nov. 10. “Radically differing opinions have become very clear.”
Three charter amendments placed on the Nov. 7 ballot by the grass-roots group passed, though not without effort.
Several members of CNOBB pooled money to pay $3,000 for legal assistance in October to ensure the initiatives made it to the ballot as they contended with obstacles from the city.
Even so, the group currently is facing complaints made to the Florida Elections Commission by ex-mayor Jack Clarke alleging CNOBB actions violated state election laws.
According to Vincent, issues encountered since the group’s formation in June may lead to its dissolution.
Vincent said under his direction CNOBB steering committee members reached consensus Nov. 9 for a motion at the Nov. 14 general membership meeting to dissolve the organization. That meeting was to occur after The Islander went to press.
CNOBB’s bylaws state it can be dissolved by a two-thirds majority vote of the membership.
Vincent said he thinks some members of the group are taking it in a direction that he did not intend.
“There are elements here that are very happy being litigious,” Vincent said. “And these unexpected and extraordinary expenses become a very big problem.”
In August, Vincent and five other members of CNOBB, who at the time also were on city boards, found themselves facing allegations that they had violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws. The allegations resulted from claims that discussions at CNOBB meetings and emails exchanged pertained to city matters.
According to Vincent, the controversy surrounding the group is a cause for concern. He said he questions whether the group is “salvageable.”
He said CNOBB must decide how — and if — it will move forward in the face of “philosophical differences” between some members.
“There are some members who think this very nice victory is a green light to go hammer and tongs on a host of other initiatives I don’t support because I feel they are personal in nature,” Vincent said.
Vincent said the result could be to dissolve the group and, in the future, operate as a different organization.
“I envisioned a neighborhood advocacy group working for the people of Bradenton Beach to provide a voice at the podium,” Vincent said. “Not militancy.”
He said he hopes members will take time to consider the future of the organization at its next — and perhaps final — meeting, which was set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the Annie Silver Community Center, 103 23rd St. N., Bradenton Beach.