Alleged Sunshine Law violations in Bradenton Beach are starting to add up to real money.
As of Dec. 1, the city had spent $19,055 on attorneys fees since August, when commissioners voted to join — and spend $10,000 — on a lawsuit filed by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke against several city board members for allegedly discussing city matters at meetings that were not properly noticed.
The city owes $14,597 to attorney Robert Watrous and paralegal Michael Barfield, representing Clarke and the city in the suit.
Additionally, city attorney Ricinda Perry’s September statement included $4,458 in fees for her input on the matter.
Former planning and zoning board member Patty Shay, a defendant in the suit, said Nov. 28 that she could no longer afford her attorney.
According to Shay, whose primary income is from Social Security, the October bill from her attorney, Dye Harrison P.A., of Bradenton, was $1,481.
“I have decided to go pro se and represent myself in the case,” Shay said. “I just can’t afford the extreme expense something like this causes.”
Shay also said she does not understand the city’s objective in joining Clarke’s lawsuit.
“We all resigned from our positions on the boards,” Shay said. “Is the intent punishment? What is the solution? No one has said that.”
When the commission voted to join the suit in August, city attorney Ricinda Perry said that based on recordings from Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach meetings, P&Z members — also CNOBB members — were talking about matters which might come before them, including a parking garage, which is included as a possible project in the recently amended community redevelopment plan.
By joining the suit, the city insulated itself from the allegations, according to Perry.
Shay said Nov. 28 since a parking garage violates the city’s comprehensive plan and was never an agenda item before the P&Z board, she and the others did not violate the Sunshine Law when the subject was mentioned at a CNOBB meeting.
According to paralegal Michael Barfield, an assistant to attorney Robert Watrous, representing Clarke and the city in the suit, the P&Z board members discussed parking garages and traffic in general, including the amended CRA plan. He said if the city had to defend against those violations and others — some that Barfield says are being uncovered in the discovery — the cost to the city could reach six figures.
“It’s a laborious process and that’s the unintended consequences people don’t think about,” Barfield said Nov. 30. “People say, ‘no harm, no foul,’ but if the city was forced to cure these violations, it could be very expensive.”
Shay says she is concerned that if the defendants lose the lawsuit, they will be required to pay the city’s legal fees, as well as their own.
“I can only imagine how much the city’s legal fees will be,” Shay said, adding, “I have my car and my trailer and I’m not sure the American Civil Liberties Union would let them take that from me.”
Shay said she has not contacted the ACLU yet regarding her situation, but may contact the group with her concerns in the future.
She also said she plans to address the commission with her concerns at its next meeting, which will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, at city hall.