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Date of Issue: July 19, 2007

Islander v. Bradenton Beach: lawsuit to progress

A hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 2 in the case of The Islander newspaper v. Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, a lawsuit alleging violations of Florida’s public records laws and the Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws.

The secrecy involves allegations of sexual harassment against former building official Ed McAdam and the resulting investigation.

The accusations and complaint were made by building department employee Gail Garneau. McAdam resigned his $82,000-per-year position March 8, shortly after Garneau’s complaint was made public.

The hearing will address pending motions filed by city attorney Ricinda Perry of Lewis, Longman & Walker, P.A., and Islander attorney Kendra Presswood. Also scheduled Aug. 13-17 by Presswood are depositons of McAdam, city clerk Nora Idso and Garneau, Chappie and city commissioners, Perry and attorney Greg Hootman.

Also of note, Commissioner Bill Shearon has questioned matters invoiced by Perry relating to the “employee investigation,” including a March 1 notation on Perry’s invoice from Lewis Longman & Walker P.A. by attorney Thomas Glenn for a work session with Perry on “meeting with employees re: investigation.”

Perry also billed the city $1,440 on March 1, noting “prepare issues for discussion with interviewees; review formal complaint; attend and conduct multiple interviews re: complaint; viewing of office; summarize legal issues and conclusions with Thomas; multiple phone calls with Mayor Chappie; office conference E. McAdam and Thomas; attend city commission meeting, CRA hearing.”

On March 6, Perry notes in her billing that she returned phone calls to Idso and Chappie and held a phone conference with Thomas regarding “post-investigation” with city employees. The statement for that day also notes that Perry received and reviewed research from Thomas regarding the investigation and that she received a phone call from Garneau regarding the outcome of the investigation, followed by a phone conference with the mayor to “coordinate meetings,” and a phone conference with McAdam.

Shearon’s question includes $832 billed March 2 with notations that the time is for Thomas’ “travel” from Bradenton to Tallahassee and preparation of a “draft memo to self re: investigation” in a series of e-mail communications to the clerk and Perry.

Discussion on Perry’s bills at the July 5 city meeting was first postponed by Chappie to allow Perry to contact her accounting department “to sit down with me ASAP to provide you with answers to your questions.”

According to Idso, “all the commissioners had some of the same questions....” She told Shearon that the mayor told her that, “in this instance, please, give everyone the go-ahead to call Ricinda and ask questions.”

The item was again removed by Chappie Monday from the July 19 meeting agenda, while a July 13 memo from Perry to the clerk attempts to resolve Shearon’s questions.

Shearon’s July 1 request includes questions on bills that exceed 30 days; a past due balance of $1,323; another past due amount of $32; a request for an explanation on the “accounting and rebilling” related to “commission phone conference calls;” the amount of the bill in the commission’s provided motion; and information on a bill of $880.01 for travel and $31 for lunch.

Two more questions from Shearon: What invoices are covered (by insurance) by the Florida League of Cities; and “Is the work product available for these invoices?”

Perry’s memo states, in part, that due to litigation with The Islander and summer vacations, some bills have been delayed. The past due amount of $1,323 will be credited, while the $32 amount remains in question. Perry maintains the questionable entry on conference calls is an “accurate reflection of work performed.”

She states that the city was only billed for a portion of Thomas’ travel time and suggests that the city advise her office to dispute those charges.

Perry also responded regarding her “work product,” saying her office “maintains an entire lateral filing cabinet of documentation....” She then cautions that “revealing work product to the city could potentially transform (it) into public record(s)....

Perry requested a vote by the city commission as to whether the work product should be made available as public record.

She also offered to review the city’s contract with FLOC and render an opinion “at my hourly billing rate.”

Yet again, in spite of numerous additional requests made by The Islander to Perry and the mayor and commissioners, no records have been provided to substantiate Garneau’s claim or Perry’s alleged investigation of McAdam, which was allegedly “concluded” June 27.

No explanation has been provided as to how the city took any action related to the matter without a public meeting.

In a related matter, the claims department of the FLOC, the organization that the city of Bradenton Beach is a member of and which provides legal representation for the city on certain matters, explained that Garneau’s complaint to the city of sexual harassment was entered with a date of Oct. 1, 2006, to coincide with the beginning of the fiscal year because the written complaint was undated. FLOC also said that no investigation was made by its office on the matter.