Bradenton Beach, lawsuit defendants vie for winning hand

It’s an expensive game called politics.

“This is like the city playing poker,” John Metz, former Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board member and current defendant in a lawsuit led by the city said March 21. “And, they think that when the cards are dealt, everybody else is going to fold their hands and the game is over. But it clearly doesn’t work that way.”

But who holds the winning hand?

Mayor John Chappie reported during a March 15 commission meeting that the city had spent $52,978.86 in attorney’s fees for the suit — initiated August 2017 by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city — against six now-former board members. Clarke alleges the defendants violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws. He claimed the defendants discussed city matters at a meeting of the grass-roots group Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach, putting the city in danger of being in violation of Sunshine Laws regarding open meetings.

In August 2017, commissioners voted to execute a contract with attorney Robert Watrous of Sarasota for the investigation, not to exceed $5,000.

At that time, Bill Shearon was mayor and the only vote against joining the investigation.

Since then, a drawn-out discovery has led to higher than expected legal fees.

Four of the six defendants — Tjet Martin, Patty Shay, Bill and Rose Vincent — have opted to drop their attorneys and go pro se, citing their increasing costs for legal representation.

During the March 15 meeting, city attorney Ricinda Perry said the attorneys for defendants Reed Mapes and Metz are driving up the costs with extensive record requests, hoping the city will drop the suit following commission changes after the Nov. 6 election.

“The city has done nothing to generate fees against your defendants,” Perry said to the commission. “Their discovery requests have been very costly and time-consuming. It’s a game I think the defendants are playing to run up the ticket on the city.”

Perry instructed Watrous and paralegal Michael Barfield to push to get a hearing date set before the end of 2018.

However, Mapes and Metz have said they will not settle and do not expect the suit to go to trial this year.

“Well, I think it’s actually the opposite direction,” Mapes said March 21. “I think the city is driving up the cost for something that’s stupid.”

Mapes said one reason the city gave for joining Clarke’s suit is that Metz and Mapes, then-P&Z members, discussed a moratorium on parking garages, with a parking garage being a land-use matter that might come before the board.

Mapes said the discussion was broad and should not have prompted action on the Sunshine Law.

Metz supported Mapes’ statement, saying that according to the city comprehensive plan, parking garages are prohibited, so the topic shouldn’t be taboo.

“They have to prove it was going to come before the P&Z board, which, of course, it never did,” Metz said.

Metz said they are not purposefully driving up legal costs, but are defending themselves against Clarke’s and the city’s allegations.

“What do they expect?” Metz said. “They started this. This is not going to be settled” out of court.

He said the case is “not even close to trial,” with no depositions taken and unfulfilled record requests.

Metz sees the suit as a revenge case initiated by Clarke as “payback for people who opposed him during his five-month tour as mayor,” in a recall election between Shearon and Clarke. Clarke took the mayor’s seat in May 2015, and in that year’s November election, lost to Shearon.

“This is a political suit if ever there was one,” Mapes said. “Whatever we can do to make them drop the suit, fine by us.”

“They’ve decided to play a game,” Metz said. “And the game never gets cheaper.”

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