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Officials defend visit to meeting

After responding last week to allegations that the board violated Florida's open meetings law, the Tampa Palms Community Development District walked a thin line at its monthly meeting Wednesday night.

In the audience, as usual, sat their number one watchdog, Tampa Palms resident Bob Doran, who first contacted the State Attorney's Office about the board's possible Sunshine Law violations.

Doran recently wrote another letter to Assistant State Attorney Mark Lewis complaining that district chairman Mark Fitzpatrick and board member Mark Hensleigh both attended the July 20 meeting of the Tampa Palms Homeowners' Association. The homeowner's association meetings are closed to the public, and the Sunshine Law prohibits public officials from meeting in private.

In the middle of Wednesday's meeting, Fitzpatrick announced that neither he nor Hensleigh had any idea the other was going to be at the meeting and did not speak to each other.

"I just wanted to be on record that this could be construed as a Sunshine Law issue," Fitzpatrick said. "There was no interaction between me and Mark Hensleigh. In retrospect, if I walk into a TPOA meeting and another board member is there, I would walk out."

Fitzpatrick said he had to leave work early to make it to the meeting, and once there, didn't want to leave. The board's attorney, Mike Cook, said that what Fitzpatrick did does not qualify under the law as a violation since he and Hensleigh did not speak to each other or discuss community development district issues.

"Well, it's important that we don't violate even the spirit of the law," Fitzpatrick replied.

With Doran around, Fitzpatrick and the rest of the board must err on the side of caution. Doran has doggedly challenged the district at every turn. Wednesday night, Doran warned the board to expect more from him.

The warning came during the audience comments section at the end of the meeting after a tense exchange with Fitzpatrick.

"In next year's budget, you should increase the attorney's fees to $100,000, and quite frankly, I don't think that's going to be enough," Doran said, and then left.

After Doran walked out, Fitzpatrick turned to the board's attorney, Cook, who had been sitting through the meeting reading a 1999 Government in the Sunshine manual that was heavily marked with Post-it notes.

"Mike, I've never heard a more clear implied threat in my life," Fitzpatrick said. "I don't think this community can afford $100,000 in attorney's fees based on the vendetta of one individual ... we can directly attribute $15,000 to $20,000 in lawyer's fees based on the shenanigans of one individual."

Cook responded that although it may burden the district, Doran is exercising his rights in making these complaints.

After the meeting, Cook said the development district's attorneys have requested a meeting with Lewis, the assistant state attorney investigating Doran's complaints. They also wrote a letter defending the district.

"Clearly there's no intent, there's no knowing violation," Cook said. "I don't think any of the attorneys on either side believe that (there was)."

If you have a story about New Tampa, call Angela Moore at 226-3473.

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