Former CNOBB members deposed in Sunshine suit

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Rose Vincent, left, defendant in the ongoing Bradenton Beach lawsuit against six former board members, defendant John Metz’s attorney Jodi Ruberg and Carol and Michael Harrington await depositions May 14 at Vincent M. Lucentes & Associates Court Reporters in Bradenton. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

The depositions push on as neither side will settle in a lawsuit that has cost Bradenton Beach taxpayers more than $200,000.

Michael Harrington, former webmaster for the now-defunct neighborhood group Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach, was deposed May 14 in a lawsuit initiated in August 2017 by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city against six former board members for allegedly violating the Sunshine Law.

Harrington, not a defendant in the suit, initially was deposed Jan. 23, but attorney Robert Watrous, representing Clarke and the city in the lawsuit, asked for more time with Harrington in light of information that emerged during the first deposition.

Additionally, Harrington’s wife, Carol, also a CNOBB member, was deposed May 14.

Carol Harrington is sister to Bill Vincent, CNOBB founder, and attended and assisted with CNOBB meetings.

The six defendants — Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill and Rose Vincent — were members of the grass-roots group when they allegedly violated the Sunshine Law by discussing city business at CNOBB meetings and through phone calls, emails and text messages.

Mapes, Metz, Shay and Bill Vincent served on the P&Z board and Martin and Rose Vincent were members of the Scenic Waves Partnership Committee.

Taking deposition

Watrous asked Carol Harrington if she attended any P&Z board or community redevelopment agency meetings, to which she replied, “No.”

He also established, through the course of the deposition, that Carol Harrington rarely attended city commission meetings, but asked her if the topics discussed at CNOBB meetings were similar to those in a city commission meeting.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I think they had different goals. CNOBB was for people to voice their opinions.”

Watrous asked her if members of CNOBB were “like-minded people” displeased with the quality of life in the city.

She answered that people were upset that the city wasn’t doing more during the moratorium on permitting large vacation rental homes and had discussed that matter at meetings.

She also said she did not remember hearing any discussion at CNOBB about prohibiting a parking garage — a topic that the group allegedly discussed at meetings, and a topic that could have come before P&Z and Waves members.

She said, if anything, the group discussed providing registered voters with information regarding stipulations on parking garages included in the city charter.

“It might have been something discussed as far as information going out to registered voters,” Harrington said.

Watrous asked her if CNOBB members were for or against a parking garage.

“I think they would be against it,” she responded,” But it wasn’t mandatory to think that.”

Analyzing computers

Michael Harrington uploaded information to the CNOBB website, including meeting agendas and recordings.

Throughout discovery he provided nearly 10,000 documents to Watrous and his paralegal, Michael Barfield, including emails, text messages and other exchanges of information between himself and the defendants, or other members of CNOBB, as well as web information relating to the organization.

During his Jan. 23 deposition, Harrington told Watrous he allowed the computer he used for CNOBB business to be destroyed. He said it had crashed and would have been more expensive to repair than replace.

Near the end of that proceeding, Watrous said he planned to continue the deposition and would file a motion to have a forensic evaluation of Michael Harrington’s current computer to recover emails or other documents he suspected Harrington deleted upon the initiation of the lawsuit.

During the May 14 deposition, Watrous asked Harrington to describe his computers — past and present — and explain what happened to each.

Harrington said the computer he used for CNOBB business crashed and the hard drive was not salvageable. But he said most of the work he did for CNOBB was stored online, through emails — not on his hard drive — and those records already were provided.

Shortly after the lawsuit was initiated, the CNOBB website, including meeting recordings, was taken offline.

Watrous asked Harrington if Bill Vincent asked him to take down the site or if he did it of his own volition.

“I was told, I believe, by Mr. Vincent that we were dissolving because of the brouhaha,” Harrington said. “I took the website down and that was it.”

“Did anyone ask you to take the website down?” Watrous asked.”

“I don’t remember that,” Harrington responded. “I took it down because it was defunct.”

At the conclusion of Michael Harrington’s May 14 deposition, Watrous said that if Michael Harrington can produce the login information for the Dropbox account he used while managing information for CNOBB, the plaintiff might not require a forensic investigation.

Attorney Jodi Ruberg, standing in for Metz’s attorney, Thomas Shults, attended the deposition, but did not cross-examine Carol or Michael Harrington.

At least 10 more depositions are planned, including Metz, who is scheduled to be deposed May 30. Depositions also are planned for Rose Vincent, city planner Alan Garrett, building official Steve Gilbert, the mayor and city commissioners, several more CNOBB members, as well as a continuation of city attorney Ricinda Perry’s March 20 deposition.

A trial is planned for mid-July.

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