Bradenton Beach rejects Sunshine suit settlement offer

Another round of compromises offered to the city by the six defendants in a Bradenton Beach suit over the Sunshine law has failed.

Bradenton Beach commissioners voted 5-0 June 6 to reject the collective offers from the defendants seeking $81,345.52 from the city and co-plaintiff Jack Clarke.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants, consisting of former Bradenton Beach officials, violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law while in office.

City attorney Ricinda Perry said the proposed settlements did not include an admission of wrongdoing or errors regarding compliance with the Florida Sunshine Law on the defendants’ part.

At press time, defendant and former planning and zoning board member John Metz said he had learned from his attorney that Perry had filed a motion consisting of more than 400 pages, asking to amend the city’s suit.

Metz delivered his offer May 28 to attorney Robert Watrous, asking for $42,000 from the city and $14,000 from Clarke. The requested payments would amount to about 40% of his attorney fees and costs through April.

The offer also said any future proposals from Metz would require the city and Clarke to pay a higher percentage of their costs for the lawsuit.

Offers from the other five defendants followed, with language similar to Metz’s offer and requiring payments to recompensate the defendants.

Former P&Z board member Reed Mapes asked for $14,000 from the city and $8,400 from Clarke.

Former P&Z member Patty Shay asked for $901.52 from the city and $444 from Clarke.

Former P&Z member Bill Vincent and his wife, Rose Vincent, a former Scenic WAVES Committee member, presented a joint offer, asking the city to pay them $4,000 and seeking $1,000 from Clarke.

Former Scenic WAVES Committee member Tjet Martin sought $1,000 from the city and $600 from Clarke.

The offers were a response to a settlement offer the city commission made April 23, which would have required the defendants collectively pay $203,118 to reimburse attorney fees and legal costs. The city’s offer also proposed defendants acknowledge errors might have been made with regard to the Sunshine Law.

The city’s previous offer, extended to defendants in March, required them to acknowledge errors regarding compliance with the Sunshine Law and for each of the defendants to pay the city $500.

Defendants rejected that offer, making a counteroffer to instead say errors may have been made, as well as a donation of $10,000 to the Annie Silver Community Center in Bradenton Beach.

Perry said she brought the most recent settlement offers to city commissioners to ask if they wanted to schedule a shade meeting to discuss them with Thomas Shults, the defendants’ attorney.

Mayor John Chappie said he felt comfortable rejecting the offer outright.

The civil lawsuit began in 2017 when it was filed by Clarke and then joined by the city. The lawsuit has cost the city $203,118 as of May 22, but Clarke was absolved by the city from paying legal fees.

The case will go to a nonjury trial beginning July 15, after a city-requested summary judgment hearing on June 20.