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Suit fights St. Pete Beach decision to pay commissioner's legal fees

ST. PETE BEACH — A former vice mayor filed suit against the city and Commissioner Bev Garnett, charging that the City Commission acted illegally when it decided to pay her legal bills.

Those bills relate to a lawsuit filed against the city by resident Bruce Kadoura over a voter-approved 2008 referendum establishing development regulations.

Garnett and other members of the referendum's sponsor, Save Our Little Village, were named as co-defendants in the suit in 2008 but were later dismissed.

Earlier this month, the commission voted to pay more than $4,000 in legal costs incurred by Garnett beginning when she was elected to the commission in March.

When Garnett took office, City Attorney Michael Davis told her she should hire her own attorney because it would be a potential conflict to continue to be represented by SOLV.

She did, and the legal bills she incurred have been paid by the city. Davis said she was entitled to be reimbursed for attorney fees because they arose out of her commission duties.

In his suit filed Wednesday, former Vice Mayor Harry Metz disputed the city attorney's assertion and said the payment of Garnett's bills is an "injustice" to taxpayers.

Metz, who is represented by Ken Weiss, is asking the Circuit Court to reverse the commission's action by ruling that Garnett's legal bills should not be paid by the city.

He said his goal is to save the city money in the long term, even though his suit against the city will force it to spend more money on legal fees.

The referendum has been the subject of a series of lawsuits that, to date, have cost the city more than $300,000.

"I am not trying to hurt anybody," Metz said. "I just want to make sure that next time things are done correctly."

Metz is no stranger to the city's development wars. Before he was elected to the commission in 2007, he served as deputy treasurer of Citizens for Responsible Growth, a political action committee that fought for and won restrictions on the City Commission's ability to change development regulations.

Ironically, it was CRG's successful referendum calling for future voter approval for major zoning, density and height changes that led to the subsequent successful voter referendum on development regulations sponsored by SOLV, a rival political group.

Suit fights St. Pete Beach decision to pay commissioner's legal fees 12/12/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 11, 2009 4:53pm]
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