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Date of Issue: December 26, 2007

City request for review in records suit denied

A circuit court judge has denied a request from the city of Bradenton Beach to reconsider aspects of his ruling in a public records suit filed by The Islander.

Meanwhile, the question of whether the court will require the city to pay the newspaper’s legal fees and court costs is pending.

The court case involves a dispute over the manner in which the city handled an alleged sexual harassment complaint filed by one municipal employee, Gail Garneau, against another, Ed McAdam. McAdam resigned before the complaint was addressed by the city commission.

The Islander suit, which named then-Mayor John Chappie as the defendant, alleged that the city improperly handled public records requests involving the sexual harassment complaint and violated Government-in-the-Sunshine laws.

The Islander’s chief concern was that despite the series of quick actions by the city to respond to the sexual harassment complaint, the public record was scant and there was no public discussion on the matter or on the acceptance of McAdam’s resignation.

In November, Circuit Court Judge Peter Dubensky issued a ruling in the case that “grants in part and denies in part” The Islander’s claims against the city in a public records suit.

Both parties declared a victory in the case, although the newspaper won the count against the city for violating public records laws. Three other counts were dismissed.

In a motion filed Dec. 5, the newspaper asked the court to award $59,448 in fees and costs. A hearing was scheduled for Jan. 8 at the courthouse in Bradenton.

The city also filed a motion after Dubensky’s initial ruling, asking that he reconsider his finding that the city’s investigation into the sexual harassment complaint was not active in late June, when the city finally made available months-old records in the case to The Islander.

 City attorney Ricinda Perry, who conducted the investigation of Garneau’s sexual harassment complaint as well as represents the city in The Islander suit, asked Dubensky to allow her to “present evidence related to the duration of the investigation.”

Dubensky, in a ruling released Dec. 13, said, “The court finds a rehearing is unnecessary because evidence of the duration of the investigation had already been presented to the court through attorney Perry’s testimony.”

The judge referred to several statements by Perry during an August hearing, including one in which she said she told McAdam her investigation would no longer be an issue if he resigned. McAdam resigned March 8, more than three months prior to the city releasing some public documents to the newspaper and, on orders from the judge, to the court.