Bill Vincent lost a race in 2016 for a seat on the Bradenton Beach Commission to now-Mayor John Chappie.
“Residents, families and neighborhoods are underserved, and I plan to change that,” Vincent said at an Oct. 12, 2016, candidate forum.
Defeated, but good to his word, in July 2017 Vincent founded Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach.
The grass-roots group “was formed to give Bradenton Beach residents, owners and businesses common ground whereby everyone will have a voice.”
Vincent dissolved the group in November 2017. He and five other CNOBB members who also served on city boards were sued in August 2017 by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke for allegedly violating the Sunshine Law by discussing city business at CNOBB meetings and through phone calls, emails and text messages.
Clarke was joined in the lawsuit by the city, which also assumed the legal bills for the claim.
Defendants Reed Mapes, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill Vincent served on the planning and zoning board and defendants Tjet Martin and Rose Vincent were members of the Scenic Waves Partnership Committee. They resigned from their city boards upon commencement of the lawsuit.
As of May 24, the suit had cost taxpayers more than $200,000 and about the same for the defendants, according to Metz.
Robert Watrous, the city’s attorney for the suit, deposed former Mayor Bill Shearon and former Commissioner Janie Robertson, also a CNOBB member, May 24.
Shearon was mayor but Robertson no longer was a city commissioner when the suit was initiated.
Connie Morrow, a current member of Waves and former CNOBB member, also was deposed May 20.
Robertson’s funding concerns
During Robertson’s deposition, Watrous brought up an Aug. 30, 2016, email from Robertson to a Vincent supporter in which she wrote, “Patty Shay and I are going to collect anonymous cash donations and I have four people willing to put their names on large checks from this cash collection … smaller grass-roots donations.”
Watrous read the email aloud and asked Robertson why she planned to keep the donations anonymous.
“I don’t know, but we didn’t do that,” she said. “Because it’s not legal.”
“No, it’s not,” Watrous agreed, and asked, “Then why did you say you were going to do it?”
Robertson said, “This was a plan that was not carried through.”
During her deposition, Morrow said CNOBB appeared to be “very much in flux” at meetings, with members conflicted about whether it was a political action committee or educational organization.
However, according to Florida statutes, because the group collected signatures from registered electors in support of ballot initiatives, it was required to register as a PAC.
Watrous asked Morrow if anyone discussed plans to run for office at CNOBB meetings.
“At the open meetings I attended there was never discussion of anyone running for office,” Morrow said.
“OK, but you hesitated,” Watrous responded.
“Because it came to be that Randy White became a participant at the CNOBB operating committee meetings,” she said.
“And he’s on the city commission now?” Watrous asked.
“Yes,” Morrow responded.
Watrous clarified the “operating committee” was referred to by the group as the “steering committee.”
Morrow said White was at the last steering committee meeting she attended, and she left early due to her discomfort.
“Because the conversation had moved over into the election and discussions on flyers and things like that, I said that I think I should go,” she said.
Parking garage discussion
Watrous asked Morrow if political issues were discussed at CNOBB meetings.
“I recall a topic coming up on one occasion,” she said. “The organization had agreed that it would sponsor certain initiatives to be put on the ballot for a citizen vote. There was a discussion about parking garages and the statement was made that that needed to be dropped.”
During his campaign, Vincent said he was against a parking garage in the historic district, saying it was inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, and he was concerned the city would amend the plan to allow a parking facility.
“This parking garage would solely benefit the merchants on Bridge Street,” Vincent said while campaigning in October 2016.
Watrous said the issue did go before the P&Z in 2017 as part of the approval process for an amended plan for the historic district, which means it might have been a reasonably foreseeable topic for Mapes, Metz, Shay and Vincent as P&Z board members.
“I really consider that as after-the-fact,” Shearon said during his deposition. “I know (a parking garage) was not acceptable to the city.”
Eleven depositions have been taken and about 10 more are scheduled, including Metz, who will be deposed July 2, as well as a continuation of city attorney Ricinda Perry’s March 20 deposition June 12.
A pretrial hearing for the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is set for June 20.
A trial date is planned in mid-July.