Holmes Beach again needs 'special counsel'
Advice ain't cheap
The 2003-04 Holmes Beach budget has $106,000 set aside for "professional services" that include legal fees, both for special counsel and the city attorney.
The budgeted fees also include those from land planners, such as Bill Brisson, who is currently assisting the city in a land-use issue, and other professionals the city might employ on an as-needed basis.
That $106,000 figure, however, will likely be exceeded and the commission will have to dip into the $50,000 in its contingency account to cover the mounting cost of legal advice.
Since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, the city has received legal bills of $10,311 from special counsel David Perssons and $29,219 from Dye Deitrich, leaving just $66,500 in this year's budget for professional services.
For the fiscal year 2002-03 that ended Sept. 30, Holmes Beach paid the Dye Deitrich law firm $105,462 for legal services and litigation.
Special counsel Greg Hootman, representing Holmes Beach through the Florida League of Cities in the lawsuit filed Aug. 19, 2003, against the city and Frank Davis by attorney John Shubin on behalf of his clients, Coloney and McLean, presented the city with legal bills totalling $18,782, just for work "performed" up to Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
With other professional services also paid during that budget year, the city had to transfer $38,000 to the already-budgeted $107,000 for such services to cover all the expenses.
Hootman has not billed the city since September for any work on the lawsuit.
Special counsel Mark Singer likewise has not yet submitted any bills to the city for legal services.
Holmes Beach has a contracted city attorney, but following the latest recusement of the law firm of Dye, Deitrich, Prather, Petruff and St. Paul at the city commission's Jan. 6 meeting from yet another issue, the city again needs "special counsel" for legal advice.
The city already has two "special counsels" providing legal advice on issues the Dye Deitrich law firm has previously recused itself from.
City Attorney Patricia Petruff told commissioners that the firm was recusing itself from advising the city on an appeal of the building official's denial of a building permit for property at 106 74th St.
Petruff said the firm received two fax messages Jan. 6 raising the "conflict of interest issue."
One of the faxes came from attorney John Shubin, who represents a plaintiff in an action against the city that Dye Deitrich has recused itself from.
Shubin claimed the appeal matter was similar to his case and Petruff said it's a serious matter when someone raises the conflict of interest issue. The firm "doesn't want to put the city commission in a situation that may subject your decision to further appeal. It's not fair to the city," she said.
At issue is a June 2002 letter Jim Dye, as city attorney, wrote to attorney Steve Thompson, who represents the property owners, in which Dye offered legal advice to Thompson, but the commission said it never asked Dye to give any advice in the matter.
From that letter, Thompson claims, his clients purchased the property, then were denied a building permit for lack of frontage.
When the city adopted a new land development code in 1989, it did not include a "savings clause," an exception to its ordinance, that would have resolved the frontage issue.
Commissioner Rich Bohnenberger said it's no secret that the commission is in the process of adopting a "savings clause," and he wanted the appeal tabled until the savings clause is approved.
Commissioner Roger Lutz, himself an attorney, noted that this is related to the Shubin- Davis matter, but there are differences.
At the same time, Lutz wondered whether or not Dye's comments in the June 2002 letter are legally binding on the city since the city never asked Dye for an opinion, just Thompson.
Great, said Mayor Carol Whitmore. "Do we need yet another attorney?" just to provide that legal opinion.
"Well, we are in for a rough 10 years" of legal issues, replied Lutz. "We are past the question of are we going to be sued."
Commissioners eventually agreed to continue the appeal and retain another "special counsel" to advise them on the matter and settled on Mark Singer, a Sarasota attorney representing the city's code enforcement board in a matter against the Alamanda Villa condominiums that the Dye Deitrich law firm also recused itself from.
Thompson said his clients were not opposed to a continuation and Commission Chairperson Sandy Haas-Marten placed the matter on the Feb. 10 commission meeting agenda.
The Dye Deitrich law firm has also recused itself from a height variance request by William Greer of the La Casa Costiera condominiums, in addition to the aforementioned variance and site-plan review for Frank Davis, owner of property at 5622 Gulf Drive, and the subsequent lawsuit against Holmes Beach filed by Davis.