Sunshine suit defendants offer ‘compromise’

The clock is ticking.

Two settlement offers are on the table in the Bradenton Beach versus citizens lawsuit, but it remains to be seen which — if any — will be accepted.

At a March 7 Bradenton Beach commission meeting, the mayor and commissioners unanimously voted to set a March 18 deadline for the defendants to respond to a settlement offer by the city in the lawsuit initiated by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city against six former city board members.

The city’s settlement offer would require the six defendants — Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill and Rose Vincent — to each pay fines of $500 and admit they violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.

The offer also requires the defendants produce additional records that were requested by the city but not provided.

But the defendants responded March 8 with an “offer to compromise,” that would eliminate any admission of guilt, provides no fine and no further records.

The defendants’ offer stipulates that the parties would be responsible for their own legal fees.

The compromise also provides for a $10,000 donation from the defendants to the Annie Silver Community Center, 103 23rd St. N., Bradenton Beach, and suggests — but does not require — the city do the same.

The deadline for the city to respond to the compromise is March 15, three days prior to the city’s deadline.

City attorney Ricinda Perry said March 7 that starting with her March 20 deposition, considerable costs will be added to the suit, which has cost taxpayers $168,294 as of March 7.

“We’re probably facing close to $10,000 just for that day,” she said of her deposition.

Perry also said some records requested by the defendants were allegedly destroyed or not provided, and that the defendants filed several motions March 6 and March 7 to block the requests.

The defendants’ compromise states that further production of records would “open the possibility of an endless dispute over this issue and is counter to everyone’s primary goal to end all disputes among the parties. The defendants have provided all public records in their possession and this issue is not part of the lawsuit.”

The defense’s primary legal stance for the case disputes the claims that four of the defendants, who met as members of the Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach grass-roots group and discussed citizen’s petitions to amend the charter, but the subjects were never brought before the planning and zoning board, of which Mapes, Metz, Shay and Bill Vincent were members.

Also, the defendants can ask the city and Clarke to pay their costs if they win, a claim that was made in the pleadings.

Tjet Martin said March 8 that on Jan. 9, during his deposition, Clarke, who accused Rose Vincent and Martin of ex parte communications, stated he could not distinguish Rose Vincent from Carol Harrington at the time he made his claim.

Martin said Rose Vincent was not at the meeting where she was accused of violating the Sunshine Law. Instead, Harrington, who did not belong to a board or any other city committee, was present.

Martin asks now, why didn’t Clarke tell his attorneys he erred in his accusation?

“It’s just one of my reasons for not agreeing to the city’s terms,” Martin said.

Additionally, the defendants claim there may be problems with the Sunshine Law as it pertains to the First Amendment, based on a Texas court ruling.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Feb. 27 in State of Texas v. Craig Doyal, a similar matter involving open meetings laws. The ruling in favor of the defendant was on the basis that “more clarity is required of a criminal law when that law implicates First Amendment freedoms.”

In the cover letter with the defendants’ offer, submitted by Metz’s attorney, Thomas Shults of Sarasota, wrote, “Compromise by both sides is necessary, with everyone respecting each other’s dignity and recognizing the need to begin healing the deep wounds caused to not only the parties, but also the community, by this lawsuit.”

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