Last month, two residents filed a lawsuit claiming Madeira Beach commission members broke the state Sunshine Law when they appointed a new member.
Now they’ve added more claims to their case. City officials, they say, refused to turn over public records. They also allege commission members used the city attorney as a private pipeline to trade information before they voted to spend tax money to defend themselves against ethics complaints.
The citizen complainants, William G. Gay and Cathy P. Moore, are asking the court to force Madeira Beach to turn over the public records and invalidate the votes to fill the commission vacancy and to pay fees related to the ethics complaints. They’re also asking that the judge make the city pay for their costs and attorney’s fees.
Madeira Beach Mayor Travis Palladeno said the city had filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed before the new claims were added.
“I have a very high confidence in that one” succeeding, Palladeno said.
Palladeno denied any wrongdoing. City attorney Tom Trask, he said, is well versed in the state’s Sunshine and Public Records laws and the commission followed his advice.
Palladeno conceded the city denied a request by Ken Weiss, the attorney representing Gay and Moore, for copies of complaints filed with the state Ethics Commission. But, he said, there’s a state law that prohibits those from being made public.
“It’s just getting a little farfetched, the sticks they’re throwing in the fire,” Palladeno said. “I guess [Weiss] will get an idea of state law.”
Weiss agreed the city cited that law in refusing copies of the ethics complaints, but he said state “law says ethics complaints are only exempt in the hands of the Ethics Commission.”
The city also refused a request for letters regarding insurance coverage of the ethics complaints, Weiss said.
The spate of lawsuits and ethics complaints that have been filed since the first of the year all have their genesis in a dispute over two proposed developments. The Madeira Beach City Center and Holiday Isle Marina projects are slated to be built on two parcels of land at the foot of the Tom Stuart Causeway Bridge, the only direct link the city has to the mainland.
Proponents say the two will bring much needed redevelopment and business to Madeira Beach. Opponents say the developments, which include 11-story buildings, condominiums, restaurants and a parking garage, will bring congestion and traffic to the area and destroy the fishing village ambience of the city.
In addition to lawsuits that have been filed, five ethics complaints were filed against commission member Pat Shontz (who resigned in June), City Manager Shane Crawford, community services director/building official Frank DeSantis, and Crawford’s assistant, Cheryl McGrady. Two of the five were filed against Crawford. Another complaint has been filed against Palladeno and there is a possible seventh complaint against commission member Elaine Poe.
Commission members voted earlier this month to use tax money to pay for any expenses related to the ethics complaints that are not covered by insurance.