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Date of Issue: May 31, 2007

'Immediate' hearing requested in public records lawsuit

Circuit Court Judge Peter Dubensky heard arguments last week on the Bradenton Beach motions to dismiss the lawsuit filed by The Islander regarding records requests related to the resignation of the city's former building official, Ed Mc Adam, in the wake of sexual harassment charges made by a city employee.

"The court denied the city's motions," Islander attorney Kendra Presswood said, "paving the way for the court to get to the heart of the matter." The Islander will now ask for an immediate hearing on the merits of the case. The court will decide whether the city violated the Public Records Act and the Government-in-the-Sunshine Law as alleged by The Islander."

Mc Adam submitted a letter of resignation in March after being placed on administrative leave. Repeated requests for documents pertaining to the matter resulted in the newspaper obtaining a one-sentence memo to Mayor John Chappie from code enforcement officer Gail Garneau, in which she said, "Please be advised that I am filing a formal complaint against the city of Bradenton Beach for sexual harassment by the building official, Ed Mc Adam."

The Islander alleges that further documents are in existence regarding the complaint by Garneau and the subsequent resignation by Mc Adam. However, repeated requests for such documents have not been complied with.

At the recent hearing, Perry acknowledged that she does have public records, but claimed they are exempt from disclosure under the Whistle-blower Act.

Presswood said the whistle-blower provision Perry is relying upon does not apply because this is not a situation where someone is complaining that they were retaliated against for blowing the whistle and, if it were, the provision Perry is relying upon would not apply to Perry's investigation. The whistle-blower exemption applies only when there is an administrative hearing procedure established by a local ordinance to handle whistle-blower complaints - not when the city hires an attorney to investigate a sexual harassment allegation.

The alleged violation of the Sunshine Law stems from meetings and/or phone conversations between the city's attorney for the matter, Ricinda Perry, and the mayor and each of the city commissioners. The suit alleges Perry acted as a "conduit of information" in private discussions with each of them prior to the public meeting to accept Mc Adams' resignation. There was no discussion at the meeting.

The date for the court hearing has not yet been set.