Pinellas Sheriff closes investigation, calls Sunshine Law violation accusations against Dunedin officials "unfounded"
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has closed the investigation of two Dunedin commissioners accused of Sunshine Law violation following the unconventional resignation of former City Manager Rob DiSpirito in January.
A report, which includes interviews with 27 people, says the allegations against Commissioner Heather Gracy and Vice Mayor Bruce Livingston were "unfounded."
"There has been no evidence provided which supports a criminal violation of the Sunshine Law," the report concludes.
The complaint was originally filed in January by former Mayor Manny Koutsourais, who said the "appearance and timing" of the motion Gracy made to fire DiSpirito near midnight at a Jan. 7 meeting was "suspicious" and "had to be" a Sunshine Law violation, but could provide no hard evidence to investigators.
On Feb. 25, former Commissioner Dave Carson contacted the sheriff saying he had evidence to support Koutsourais' claims, the report says.
Carson said he had received information earlier in the week of the Jan. 7 meeting that Gracy's husband, local attorney Andrew Gracy, had met Dunedin residents Kevin and Patrick Donoghue to tell them to watch the meeting because there would be "fireworks."
When the sheriff interviewed the men on March 9, they denied Carson's claims, but Patrick Donoghue said Andrew Gracy had approached him at a Christmas party saying "something big was going to happen." He said there was no further conversation between him and Andrew Gracy and said he didn't think the comment had anything to do with DiSpirito or his eventual termination.
Carson also told Gualtieri that Livingston gave similar information to former Mayor Tom Anderson around the same time, telling him the commission would terminate DiSpirito at the Jan. 7 meeting. Anderson was interviewed by deputies on March 9 and verified Carson's claims.
He told investigators that Livingston asked to meet with him days before the commission meeting and told him there was going to be a motion to fire DiSpirito. According to the report, Anderson "immediately corrected himself (when talking to deputies) by saying Livingston said a 'move' and not a 'motion.'"
The report details investigators' he said, she said interviews with more residents, local business owners, former and current city officials, which went on until the investigation closed Tuesday. It concludes by saying that Gracy and Livingston's phone records "provided no evidentiary value to this investigation."
"I have determined that the complaint of criminal wrongdoing...is unfounded," the sheriff wrote in a letter sent to Gracy and Livingston on Tuesday. "This matter is closed and no further action will be taken."
Gracy said she is is "relieved" the investigation is over, but "not surprised" by its results.
"The motion was as transparent as one could make it," she said Friday. "I went to City Attorney Tom (Trask) and we talked about the course of action. That is why I knew, and still know, there was no violation."
Livingston says he is glad the citizens of Dunedin can "rest assured the truth has prevailed."
"There is not a positive benefit to anyone by making allegations of city officials that are not based upon fact," he said in an email that called the ordeal an "unnecessary distraction" to citizens. "I am glad this unfortunate event is behind us and that we can now focus on moving forward in a positive manner."