ST. PETE BEACH — The long-running fight over development rules took another turn Friday when former Vice Mayor Harry Metz sought a court ruling to force current City Commissioner Beverly Garnett to refund more than $4,000 in legal fees that the city paid for her.
Metz contends that the payment was unconstitutional and Garnett "intentionally defrauded" taxpayers, "fraudulently induced" the city to pay her legal fees, and "breached her fiduciary duty to taxpayers."
Garnett could not be reached for comment.
Metz says the city's payment of Garnett's legal fees is an "injustice to taxpayers." His lawyer is Ken Weiss, who also represents residents Bill Pyle, Bruce Kadoura and Richard McCormick, who, either individually or collectively, filed about half a dozen lawsuits against the city and the citizens group Save Our Little Village in an attempt to block implementation of a voter-approved comprehensive plan.
So far, the lawsuits Weiss filed on behalf of his clients have cost the city more than $300,000.
SOLV proposed a referendum changing the city's comprehensive plan and redevelopment regulations. The referendum passed in 2008.
Garnett was a member of SOLV and was named individually in one of the lawsuits. She was sued, she said, "as a harassing tactic" because she was running for a seat on the commission. SOLV's attorneys started out representing her, but after Garnett took office as a city commissioner, City Attorney Michael Davis advised her to hire her own lawyer.
The commission approved paying about $4,000 in legal bills that Garnett incurred after being elected to the commission in March 2009.
At the time, Davis told the commission that she was entitled to be reimbursed for attorney's fees because they arose out of her commission duties.
Before Metz was elected to the commission, he was a member of Citizens for Responsible Growth, a group opposed to extensive redevelopment, particularly of high-rise hotels and condominiums.
Metz, who originally sued both Garnett and the city in December, voluntarily dismissed the city as a defendant in the case earlier in the week.
In a letter to the city's attorneys, Weiss said Metz did not want to add to the city's legal bills.
He said Metz's offer to dismiss the suit against Garnett as well was rejected when Garnett refused to agree to pay her own legal fees in the suit.