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Open Meetings Lawsuit Settlement Reworked

City Attorney tells City Commission to 'dial It back' on discussion to dissolve Public Art Committee

It appears that Sarasota commissioners said too much of what's on their mind that the city attorney asked them to tone down the discussion on

"I would recommend that we all just dial it back, and dial it back to where we were Tuesday [Sept. 5] before this whole discussion got started," City Attorney Robert Fournier said.

Fournier said some statements made by commissioners while discussing the settlement and providing direction for the settlement could be considered retaliatory against the Public Art Committee, and if the attorney would carry out one of his assignments, it would be illegal. 

"I think you should ask yourselves do you really want to get into this right now?" Fournier asked the commission. "Why really even go there?"

The commission approved to Sept. 5 by paying for the $6,000 legal fees using Public Art funds and voiding the authorized monies and vision of the project, and Commissioner Terry Turner suggested that the commission look into dissolving the Public Art Committee.

So the commission on Sept. 10 provided a consensus to cancel Fournier's assignment and to use an appropriate source of money to pay for the legal fees.

But it wasn't the Public Art Committee that had violated the law, Fournier said. It was a steering committee created to look at the project that met in unadvertised meetings, which Fournier describes as an "unknowing and inadvertent violation of the law." The issue was that the Public Art Committee just wanted to be consulted, in the open, about the project, he added.

"From their perspective, it seems unfair that they're penalize in a matter of speaking for something that someone else did," Fournier said.

Andrea Mogensen, attorney for plaintiff Citizens For Sunshine and Public Art Chairman George Haborak, informed Fournier of the discrepancy during the settlement, according to Fournier. A suit for retaliation was possible unless the commission's actions were corrected, he added. Mogensen said if those actions were carried out, it could have resulted in more money lost for the city, The Herald-Tribune reported:

"It's a shame," Mogensen said, "because further litigation -- it's just going to cost the city more money. That's not my client's objective."

The commission could still dissolve the Public Art Committee, Fournier said, because the city has that power, but it cannot be the result of the lawsuit. It could be for budgetary or staff reasons, but even that, Fournier advised, is best to wait later.

"Don't invite a dispute about whether any action taken to dissolve or retain this committee was done for the right or for the wrong reasons," Fournier said. "You've got bigger fish to fry than that."

As for the money, by ordinance Public Art Funds cannot be used to pay attorney or legal fees, Fournier said, so the legal fees will have to be paid from another account.

The commissioners provided a simple consensus, sans discussion, to resolve the matter to avoid further litigation.

Ronald Smith September 12, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Once again, the lawyers win. This is why we can't have anything nice.

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