6 former BB committee members defend against ex-mayor/city lawsuit

They’re fighting back.

Defendants in a lawsuit initiated by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city of Bradenton Beach say the suit is baseless in a response filed Oct. 3 with the 12th Circuit Court.

The suit alleges six city committee members — all who’ve subsequently resigned — violated the Sunshine Law at meetings of a newly formed citizens group.

The commission was encouraged by city attorney Ricinda Perry to join attorney Robert P. Watrous of Sarasota in the litigation, although she did not introduce his client. Perry told the commission in August she had previously warned P&Z members that taking part in CNOBB discussion could lead to Sunshine Law violations.

The defendants say the suit is a money drain for taxpayers.

Mayor Bill Shearon, domestic partner of former Scenic Waves committee member and defendant Tjet Martin, also has budget concerns.

“That’s the question right now. What is the cost?” Shearon said.

The mayor was the only “no” at the Aug. 3 meeting on the vote to join the litigation.

Shearon was concerned the legal investigation had exceeded the authorized $5,000, but apparently the fee for the investigation was extended to $10,000 at a Sept. 6 meeting.

Watrous filed the three-count complaint Aug. 11 on behalf of Clarke and the city.

The attorney costs to litigate the case are unknown and there is yet no budget for a trial, he said.

Count I seeks a declaration that John Metz, Patricia Shay, Reed Mapes and William Vincent — as members of the Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach — failed to properly notice a July meeting. Clarke also is suing the defendants for his legal fees.

The Sunshine Law violations allegedly relate to a CNOBB meeting and a discussion on parking and a parking garage, matters the suit contends would likely come before the P&Z.

In Count II, the suit alleges former Scenic Waves members Martin and Rose Vincent discussed similar matters at an August CNOBB meeting without providing an opportunity for public comment.

Count III asks for injunctive relief against Martin and Rose Vincent to stop them from jointly attending such meetings.

The counts against the former Scenic Wave members also seek legal fees and costs.

Jim Dye of the law firm Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt & St. Paul, representing three former P&Z members and the two former members of the Scenic Waves committee, denied most of the lawsuit’s allegations in his Oct. 3 response.

He wrote, “The court is unable to engage in judicial action that has any effect on these defendants,” who were no longer board members when and the city Clarke filed suit.

Dye’s response contends the plaintiffs are not entitled to legal fees under state law. Suits filed against appointed board members do not result in attorneys’ fees, he added.

Dye also seeks to dismiss Count III, saying injunctive relief requiring the defendants abide by the Sunshine Law is unavailable because the defendants are no longer associated with a city committee or board.

Defendant Metz, who expects his attorney, Thomas Shultz of Sarasota, to file a response, isn’t mincing words to describe the litigation.

He called it “an unhappy thing for the city and its citizens,” with the plaintiffs attempting “to punish volunteers who’ve spent years working for them.”

The city also is risking taxpayers’ money if the six volunteers ultimately gain reimbursement of their legal fees, Metz said.

“It’s going to trial in my book,” he added.