Bradenton Beach tenders new settlement offer

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Clockwise from left, Bradenton Beach Commissioners Ralph Cole and Jake Spooner, attorney Robert Watrous, Mayor John Chappie, city attorney Ricinda Perry and Commissioner Marilyn Maro participate April 9 in a shade meeting on the Sunshine lawsuit filed by the city against six former board members. Court reporter Joann Zeck, with Vincent M. Lucente and Associates, also is present. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Bradenton Beach put another settlement offer on the table.

During the portion of a shade meeting that was open to the public April 10 for a lawsuit against six former board members initiated by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city, a motion was made by Commissioner Jake Spooner and approved 4-0 by the mayor and commissioners to end the lawsuit without an admission of guilt from the defendants — if they pay the city’s legal court costs, now more than $165,000.

The lawsuit alleges the board members violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law by discussing city matters at meetings that were not publicly noticed and through emails, texts and phone calls.

A shade meeting allows a government body to privately meet with council to discuss litigation strategy, settlement negotiations or expenditures. The meeting is publicly noticed and is opened and closed in an open session.

The private portion of the meeting is recorded by a court reporter and made available to the public after the case is closed.

Spooner’s motion was made at the closing.

“Our attorneys have been successful in securing public records, including a recent production of 10,000 records, as well as fixing the problems of past board work,” Spooner said before making the motion.

Clarke was not present at the April 10 meeting, which was attended by Mayor John Chappie, and Commissioners Ralph Cole, Marilyn Maro, Spooner, city attorney Ricinda Perry and attorney Robert Watrous, who represents Clarke and the city in the lawsuit. Commissioner Randy White was absent with excuse.

In March, the city made an offer that would have required the defendants — Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill and Rose Vincent — to each pay fines of $500 and admit they violated the Sunshine Law during meetings of the grass-roots group Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach, of which the defendants were members while also serving on volunteer city boards.

The defendants responded with an “offer to compromise,” to make a $10,000 donation to the Annie Silver Community Center and exclude any admission of guilt and the $500 per-person fine.

Their offer also stipulated that the city and the defendants would pay their own legal fees.

When the mayor and city commissioners declined the defendants’ compromise offer, they said the defendants’ language in the agreement, which stated the defendants “may” have violated the Sunshine Law, was not definitive and decided to proceed with the suit and let the court determine if the law was violated.

The defendants have seven business days to respond to the city’s latest offer.

If all six of the defendants do not accept the offer, the mayor, former Mayor Bill Shearon, city commissioners, some city staff, Metz, Rose Vincent and several former members of CNOBB will be deposed throughout May and June.

As of April 10, a hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 26, with Judge Edward Nicholas of the Manatee County 12th Judicial Circuit Court.

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