Public records suit filed against Bradenton Beach
The Islander newspaper filed a lawsuit this week against the city of Bradenton Beach regarding records involving the resignation of its building official.
The suit requests information that led to the March 8 resignation of building official Ed Mc Adam. His resignation apparently was prompted by a one-sentence, un-dated memo to Mayor John Chappie by Gail M. Garneau, code enforcement officer, which states: "Please by advised that I am filing a formal complaint against the city of Bradenton Beach for sexual harassment by the building official, Ed Mc Adam."
The Islander believes that further documents are in existence regarding the allegation by Garneau and the subsequent resignation by Mc Adam. However, repeated requests for any such documents have not been met.
City clerk Nora Idso, custodian of records for the city, has said, "I wish I could supply [your request]. I can't produce what I don't have. The only document associated that was given to the city was the original harassment complaint which I provided." She said that if any meetings were held they were not held at city hall. The only records she has pertain to Garneau's memo and Mc Adam's resignation letter, which makes no mention of Garneau's allegations.
The Islander lawsuit details the newspaper's written and oral requests for records dating from March 6 regarding the administrative leave of the Garneau and Mc Adam and any information regarding that leave. Written requests cited Florida Statutes Chapter 119, and on March 19, Idso said that there were no exempt documents, and that there were no additional documents responsive to the request.
The Islander retained attorney Kendra Presswood at that point, who contacted city attorney Ricinda Perry, who was handling the matter for the city.
Perry responded that "the City provided all public records they have in their possession that they are legally obligated to providepursuant to [the] request; however, even assuming arguendo that there were additional public records, such records would be exempt pursuant to Chapter 112 regarding receipt of whistle-blower information."
Perry's letter also indicates that she advised the city that anyone who disclosed information made confidential under Chapter 112 would be guilty of a crime.
The Islander's Presswood responded that "if the city was claiming there were nopublic records responsive to the requests, that Perry so state. Plaintiff's counsel advised that if Perry would not make such a representation, it would be inferred that there are, in fact, public records that have not been provided and this lawsuit would be filed."
Perry responded with a fax on March 22, in which she again qualified her response by stating "the City has made available all public records they have in their possession that they are legally obligated to provide … however, even assuming arguendo that there were additional public records, such records would be exempt pursuant to Chapter 112, Florida Statutes, regarding receipt of whistle-blower information."
Presswood responded with another request: "If no public records are provided and I do not receive unqualified responses to the above questions by the end of the day today, I will assume that the city has, in fact, been keeping records from The Islander and will file suit promptly."
Perry provided the same qualified responses, stating: "The city has repeatedly and within a reasonable time, made available all public records they have in their possession that they are legally obligated to provide… however, even assuming arguendo that there were additional public records, such records would be exempt pursuant to Chapter 112 regarding receipt of whistle-blower information."
The basis of the lawsuit is that, according to Presswood, "Based upon the city's failures to respond and delays in responding; the city attorney's failure to provide an unqualified representation that there are no other public records responsive to plaintiff's requests; as well as the qualification by Idso that the only document actually given to the city was the original complaint; it is reasonable to infer that the City has records it is claiming do not fall within the definition of a public record and is wrongfully refusing to produce said records on that basis; is aware of public records but is wrongfully claiming it is not required to produce them because they are not currently in the physical possession of the city;and/or is aware of public records but is wrongfully claiming they are exempt from disclosure under Chapter 112.
"In addition, it is reasonably inferred from the above-described circumstances that there were private meetings between public officials prior to the public emergency meeting in which the city accepted Mc Adam's resignation and that there were likely public records concerning same which the city allowed someone else to maintain possession of in order to avoid the Public Records laws."
However, the few documents provided indicate that invoices from Perry's law firm of Lewis Longman and Walker held entries that "beginning as early as Feb. 21, Perry was meeting with Chappie concerning the sexual harassment complaint."
On Feb. 23, Perry met with Chappie and with Mc Adam, and then did "follow-up with commissioners with phone calls." On Feb. 28, Perry's invoice states she did preparation for the "administrative investigation and strategy for same to be held on March 2" and she had a "phone conference with city officials re: conduct investigation and location."
No hearing date for the lawsuit had been set at Islander presstime.