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Date of Issue: August 09, 2007

Another Islander v. Chappie hearing Aug. 16-17

Attorneys for The Islander and Mayor John Chappie met in court last week with 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Peter Dubensky hearing motions from both sides in the lawsuit filed by The Islander seeking public records and compliance with Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law from the city.

Bradenton Beach employee Gail Garneau and two of her family members and Islander publisher Bonner Joy were the only observers in the gallery.

The lawsuit stems from a lack of information and public action by the city commission after a complaint was made to the city of Bradenton Beach by Garneau, a building department employee, that she had been the victim of sexual harassment. She named her department head, Ed McAdam, and shortly thereafter he resigned his $82,000-per-year position.

Both employees were on “administrative leave” when the complaint became public.

During the “leave,” no information, meetings or records were provided to the public regarding the employee leave or the actions taken by the mayor to initiate an “investigation.”

An “emergency” city commission meeting - although no state of emergency was declared by the city, as is required - was held shortly after Garneau’s undated complaint was made public. At the March 8 meeting, the commission voted to accept McAdam’s resignation without discussion.

Numerous early attempts by The Islander to obtain any documentation of the alleged harassment or other records associated with McAdam’s resignation from the city’s records clerk, Nora Idso, resulted in no records and no offer of legal exemptions.

Subsequently, only handful of related records, including a memo from the mayor to McAdam labeled “confidential,” have been provided.

Representing the city, Ricinda Perry of Lewis Longman & Walker, P.A., requested a summary judgment at the hearing and it was denied by Dubensky.

At the Aug. 2 hearing,  Dubensky was asked by The Islander’s attorney, Kendra Presswood, to either rule that the city violated public records and Sunshine Laws based upon the admissions contained in the city’s answer to the lawsuit, or set an immediate trial date to hear evidence.

The city’s answer indicates that records were withheld that were provided later; phone conversations occurred between Perry, the mayor and commissioners regarding an “emergency meeting;” and an investigation was ongoing after McAdam resigned until June 27.

 Perry also presented a motion asking the court to prevent The Islander from taking depositions.

 That motion was denied, and Dubensky further granted The Islander two half-day hearings on Aug. 16-17 and required that Perry produce - without subpoenas - those persons listed for depositions be present for questioning by Presswood.

 The judge did not, however, include city clerk Nora Idso, and Presswood said Idso will be subpoenaed to appear.

 The mayor, commissioners and Garneau will be required to submit to questions from The Islander to find out what discussions they had outside of public meetings concerning the sexual harassment complaint, the resignation of McAdam, and authorization of and results from the ensuing investigation conducted by Perry’s law firm.

 Although Perry sought to prevent questioning the witnesses, Presswood will be asking about documents in existence which have not been produced in response to the public records requests.

Greg Hootman, a Sarasota attorney who sometimes represents the city on behalf of the Florida League of Cities, has been excused from testimony by Presswood, who said at the hearing that she spoke to Hootman and came to the agreement that he was not involved in the matter.

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 the claim and the complaint made against McAdam.

No explanation has been provided as to how the mayor single-handedly authorized the employee leaves and the subsequent investigation by Perry and how the city took any action related to the matter without a public meeting.