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Date of Issue: May 10, 2007

'Sunshine' lawsuit against Bradenton Beach stalled

In response to the lawsuit filed by The Islander newspaper against the city of Bradenton Beach seeking public records, Circuit Judge Peter Dubensky entered an order directing Bradenton Beach to show cause why the court should not grant the relief requested in The Islander's complaint.

Subsequently, Bradenton Beach asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit on technical grounds. A hearing date is expected to be set in the near future.

The suit requests information that led to the March 8 resignation of building official Ed Mc Adam. His resignation apparently was prompted by a one-sentence, undated memo to Mayor John Chappie by Gail M. Garneau, code enforcement officer, which states: "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 believes additional documents are in existence regarding the allegation by Garneau and the subsequent resignation by Mc Adam. However, repeated requests for additional documents have produced no results.

City clerk Nora Idso, custodian of records for the city, said "I wish I could supply [your request]. I can't produce what I don't have."

She said that if any meetings were held, they were not at city hall. The only records she has pertains to Garneau's memo and Mc Adam's resignation letter, which makes no mention of Garneau's allegations.

The Islander lawsuit details written and oral requests for records dating from March 6 regarding the administrative leaves of Garneau and Mc Adam and any information regarding that leave. Written requests cited Florida Statutes Chapter 119, the Government in the Sunshine Laws.

The Islander retained attorney Kendra Presswood, who contacted city attorney Ricinda Perry, who is handling the matter for the city.

Perry responded that "the city provided all public records they have in their possession that they are legally obligated to providepursuant to [the] request; however, even assuming arguendo that there were additional public records, such records would be exempt pursuant to Chapter 112 regarding receipt of whistle-blower information."

Perry's letter also indicates that she advised the city that anyone who disclosed information made confidential under Chapter 112 would be guilty of a crime.

Presswood requested "if the city was claiming there were nopublic records responsive to the requests, that Perry so state." She advised that if Perry would not make such a representation, it would be inferred that there are, in fact, public records that have not been provided and this lawsuit would be filed."

Perry again qualified her response in a faxed reply on March 22.

Presswood responded with another request: "If no public records are provided and I do not receive unqualified responses to the above questions by the end of the day today, I will assume that the city has, in fact, been keeping records from The Islander and will file suit promptly."

Perry provided the same qualified responses post deadline.

The few documents which were produced included invoices from Perry's law firm of Lewis Longman and Walker to the city. Presswood says that the invoices make it clear that "beginning as early as Feb. 21, Perry was meeting with Chappie concerning the sexual harassment complaint."

On Feb. 23, Perry met with Chappie and Mc Adam, and then did "follow up with commissioners with phone calls."

On Feb. 28, Perry's invoice states she did preparation for the "administrative investigation and strategy for same to be held on March 2" and she had a "phone conference with city officials re: conduct investigation and location."

Based upon these billings and the fact that the city accepted the resignation of Mc Adams without any discussion, comments, or questions, the lawsuit also alleges that the city violated the Government in the Sunshine Laws which require any meetings to be held in public. The lawsuit alleges Mayor Chappie "violated the Sunshine Law by meeting with each of the city commissioners, either directly or indirectly through Perry."