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Date of Issue: May 17, 2007

Admissions, but records still denied in Bradenton Beach

Responses from Bradenton Beach attorneys to a lawsuit by The Islander newspaper requesting further information and documentation regarding a sexual harassment charge by a city employee that apparently resulted in the resignation of that city's building official are being pursued.

 Building official Ed Mc Adam submitted a letter of resignation in March after he was placed on administrative leave. Repeated requests for documents pertaining to the matter produced an undated, one-sentence memo to Mayor John Chappie from code enforcement officer Gail Garneau, in which she said, "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 such documents have not produced results.

"The city responded with an allegation that it has ‘an ongoing active investigation that involves the information received by the local chief executive officer, which derived from allegations of an employee's act of malfeasance," Islander attorney Kendra Presswood said regarding the response to The Islander's lawsuit filed by city attorney Ricinda Perry.

The city response alleges "specifically, Chappie received a letter from Garneau stating that she was initiating a formal complaint regarding sexual harassment by a city employee."

Perry's response states: "To date, the investigation into employee malfeasance is still active, and thus, any records produced or derived from the investigation are exempt from the Public Records Act."

Presswood, who has handled numerous sexual harassment and whistleblower matters, said, "The City is attempting to rely upon the state Whistleblower's Act to claim its investigation of a sexual harassment complaint - not a whistle-blower complaint - is exempt from the Public Records Act." Presswood added, "It is incredible that the city claims it is still investigating the sexual harassment complaint two months after the city accepted the resignation of the accused employee, Mc Adam, at its emergency meeting on March 8."

Presswood said, "In more than 10 years of litigating sexual harassment cases, I cannot recall any employer continuing to investigate a complaint against an individual whose employment was already terminated."

In response to Islander allegations that Chappie "violated the Sunshine Law by meeting with each of the city commissioners, either directly or indirectly through Perry," the city's response admits that "Perry conducted telephone conversations between the mayor and commission members individually" but claims she did not convey information from one elected official to another. Absent from the city's response, however, is any explanation as to what Perry did discuss with the mayor and each commission member.

The subject of the discussion, however, according to Perry's billing statement, which is among the requested documents that were provided to The Islander, was the investigation of Mc Adam and the sexual harassment complaint.

On Feb. 23, Perry invoiced 6.8 hours and described her duties related to the "administrative investigation" to include "employment matters and advice re: handling same; travel to city hall for meeting with mayor; meeting with E. Mc Adam re: employment issues; follow up with commissioners with phone calls."

Depositions are being scheduled by Presswood on the matter with a host of city employees and officials, and a hearing date in circuit court has been set for May 21.