Wednesday, June 20, 2018
News Roundup

Conflict of interest question resolved for St. Pete Beach candidate

ST. PETE BEACH — Mayor Steve McFarlin has dropped his call for an ethics inquiry into James Anderson's candidacy for a seat on the City Commission.

Anderson is running for the District 3 commission seat in the March 11 city election. He is opposed by Gregory Premer.

At issue is whether Anderson's ongoing legal action against the city and its comprehensive plan would pose a significant conflict of interest for the candidate.

This month, McFarlin asked City Attorney Mike Davis to pursue the issue with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Before Davis could act, however, Anderson's attorney, Ken Weiss, contacted the Ethics Commission for a direct opinion.

In an email to Weiss, the Commission on Ethics staff attorney, Gray Schafer, made it clear that under state law and its ethics rules there is no impediment to Anderson running for a commission seat.

Schafer said similar issues arose in the past in other cities and the commission's published opinions state that "there would be no conflict for a public officer with a pending lawsuit against his agency to serve on that same agency . . . the same reasoning can be applied to a candidate running for public office."

The ethics attorney did stress, however, that if a candidate such as Anderson were elected, "voting on an issue related to the litigation would violate the voting conflict statute."

Schafer also said Anderson should not "use his position" as a commissioner to "access confidential information" that would "benefit himself in the lawsuit."

City Attorney Mike Davis subsequently said basically the same thing in an email to City Manager Mike Bonfield.

Davis stressed that he had not told the commission that suing the city was a bar to becoming a candidate or being elected to office, only that if elected there could be a "voting conflict regarding matters affecting the lawsuit."

Anderson has said he would recuse himself from any commission decisions involving his case.

McFarlin said the response from the Commission on Ethics answered his questions and he did not plan to pursue the issue.

"I just wanted to know that if he got into office would he have to recuse himself, especially on issues relating to the comprehensive plan or redevelopment of the Corey area," McFarlin said.

The city's comprehensive plan has been the center of a legal dispute for more than a decade — a dispute that has resulted in several referendum elections, political power shifts on the commission, multiple lawsuits against the city, changes to the city charter, and even a special state law.

The city's current comprehensive plan, originally written by a group of residents and hoteliers (Save Our Little Village or SOLV) and approved by voters, has been reviewed by the state and unanimously approved by the commission with minor changes requested by the state.

Anderson's latest lawsuit is now before the 2nd District Court of Appeal. He is alleging the commission violated the Sunshine Law during closed meetings with city attorneys in 2011.

The First Amendment Foundation joined Anderson's suit last summer as a friend of the court arguing that the city had violated the Sunshine Law.

Oral arguments were completed late last year and both the city and Anderson are waiting for a ruling.

Comments
Top 5 at noon: Berkeley prep revolts against graduate Kirstjen Nielsen; Lawsuit against St. Pete alleges racial motivations; and more

Top 5 at noon: Berkeley prep revolts against graduate Kirstjen Nielsen; Lawsuit against St. Pete alleges racial motivations; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com.TAMPA’S BERKELEY PREP GRADS LEAD REVOLT AGAINST ONE OF THEIR OWN: KIRSTJEN NIELSENWhen Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen went on national television Monday and dismissed criticism o...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
Clearwater’s Clegg Insurance Group buys Advanced Insurance Brokerage

Clearwater’s Clegg Insurance Group buys Advanced Insurance Brokerage

CLEARWATER - Clegg Insurance Group of Clearwater announced on Wednesday it has bought Brandon-based Advanced Insurance Brokerage.The merger creates a firm with more than 2,000 customers and more than $10 million in annual premiums. Terms were not dis...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Florida State will host Florida Gators to open this basketball season

Florida State will host Florida Gators to open this basketball season

For the first time in almost two decades, Florida and Florida State will open the men's basketball season against each other.The Seminoles will host UF on Nov. 6, both programs announced Wednesday morning. FSU has won four in a row in the series."Any...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox Sr. was watching the NFL draft 24 years ago when the phone rang. Buffalo coach Marv Levy was on the other line."Marv said they were taking me," said Knox Sr., a standout receiver at FSU.Soon after, Knox Sr. saw his name scroll across ESPN'...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Citizens considers hiking homeowners insurance rates about 8 percent

Citizens considers hiking homeowners insurance rates about 8 percent

Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s is weighing another round of hefty rate hikes.Staffers with the state-run insurer of last resort have proposed raising the average rates for homeowners by 7.9 percent — just under the legislative cap of 10 percent ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
A tight supply cuts into Tampa Bay homes sales while prices keep rising

A tight supply cuts into Tampa Bay homes sales while prices keep rising

Tampa Bay’s two largest counties showed anemic home sales in May as prices continued to rise due to a tight supply.In Pinellas, sales of single-family home plunged nearly 12 percent from the previous May, the second-worst showing in a year. Prices, t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Five guns taken in 30 reported break-ins of unlocked cars in Clearwater

Five guns taken in 30 reported break-ins of unlocked cars in Clearwater

CLEARWATER — Thieves have made off with at least five guns after breaking into unlocked vehicles in recent days, police said Wednesday morning.Over the past three days, a group of people have been breaking into unlocked vehicles across the city. Clea...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Safety Harbor is no safe haven from cyberbullying

Safety Harbor is no safe haven from cyberbullying

SAFETY HARBOR — Mayor Joe Ayoub put forth a resolution Monday evening asking the City Commission to condemn cyberbullying.The result? The meeting devolved into shouting and whispering from the crowd and people storming out of chambers.The mayor’s res...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pasco Sheriff: Hudson man faces sexual battery charges

Pasco Sheriff: Hudson man faces sexual battery charges

HUDSON — A 33-year-old man is facing charges of sexual battery and rape after Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies said he assaulted a 14-year-old girl.Christopher Hall, who was 31 at the time of the incident, forced the victim into a bathroom, took off h...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Kevin Kiermaier returns to the Rays

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Kevin Kiermaier returns to the Rays

Times sports columnist Tom Jones joins Rick Stroud to discuss Kevin Kiermaier's return to the Rays, whether Victor Hedman should win the Norris Trophy for the NHL's best defenseman, Bucs expectations for this season and Barry Trotz's next c...
Updated: 1 hour ago