A judge has settled a public records dispute in Safety Harbor that has simmered for seven months and will cost taxpayers more than $2,000 in legal fees.
At a hearing Thursday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Howard P. Rives ordered City Commissioner Linda Adkins to sift through the public files she keeps at home and copy any letters she finds.
The copies, about 200 pages worth, are to be given to former City Commissioner Sal Cincotta, who is trying to unseat Adkins in the March 10 election.
Cincotta filed a lawsuit July 15 seeking copies of any city-related letters Adkins had received at home. He charged that Adkins did not respond when he made a public records request July 5.
"There's not any secret agenda here," Cincotta's lawyer Robert L. Hoskins III said after the hearing. "We want to see why she was keeping them at home. What's she hiding? That's the only thing we want to know."
Adkins responded: "I have nothing to hide." She said she receives city correspondence at her home because someone is improperly taking mail out of her City Hall mailbox before she has a chance to see it.
She said Cincotta submitted his request over the July 4 holiday weekend. She did not see it until July 9 and was in the process of dealing with it when Cincotta took legal action, she said.
Cincotta said he would have given Adkins an extra two weeks to comply with his request. But, he said, she did not call him and he believed the lawsuit was the only way to get the records.
At issue Thursday was not whether the records would be furnished, but how. In July, Adkins allowed Cincotta and Hoskins to look through four boxes and two bags of city records she kept at home.
The pair spent more than two hours looking through a portion of the records when they gave up for the day. Efforts to arrange a subsequent session fell through. Also, Cincotta and his attorney argued it was Adkins' job _ not theirs _ to sift through the records, which included books and other materials, and find any letters.
"Can a public official, when requested, sit there and say, "Here's everything I have. If you want a public record, Mr. Public, you find it?'
" Hoskins asked.
If the answer were yes, he said, "that would completely wipe out the effectiveness of the (public records) statute."
City Attorney Alan Zimmet, arguing for Adkins, noted Cincotta had asked for city letters Adkins received at home. He said it was impossible to tell which ones she received at home and which ones she received at City Hall and later took home.
When Hoskins agreed to pay for copying costs for any letters in Adkins files, the matter was settled.
Cincotta and Adkins sat quietly at separate tables as their lawyers argued. The records in question sat in boxes on a dolly against a courtroom wall.
Zimmet said his fees would eclipse the $2,000 mark for the lawsuit. That does not include Hoskins' fees, which also may be paid by the city.