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Madeira Beach faces more legal wrangles

Published Aug. 17, 2016

MADEIRA BEACH — Yet another legal action was filed against the city Tuesday, this time claiming the City Commission violated the Florida Sunshine Law and the state's public records law when it voted to pay legal bills for current and former city officials who are facing ethics complaints.

The action was an expansion of a previous lawsuit that claimed the city also violated the Sunshine Law when the commission appointed Housh Ghovaee to fill the seat vacated by former Commissioner Pat Shontz.

She had resigned previously after becoming the target of an ethics complaint relating to renovation of a house she owned in the city.

The original lawsuit, filed by attorneys Ken Weiss and Timothy Weber on behalf of William Gay and Cathy Moore, alleged the commission picked Ghovaee over two other applicants by ballots filled out before the public meeting.

This latest Sunshine Law challenge also involves a commission vote during a public meeting that, according to the lawsuit, was based on information given to commissioners individually and privately by their attorney, Tom Trask.

During those private conversations, the lawsuit states, the city attorney informed commissioners about the contents of various ethics complaints against city officials to assist them in their subsequent decision on payment of legal bills.

Most of those ethics complaints have yet to be made public and by law are confidential, are not subject to the public records law, and can be released only by the parties involved or until they are made public by the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Weiss and Weber maintain that since the complaints were revealed by Trask to the commissioners and were the basis of their later decision, they therefore should be a public record.

At least seven ethics complaints have been filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics by residents against City Manager Shane Crawford, Mayor Travis Palladeno, Commissioner Elaine Poe, Shontz, building official Frank DeSantis, and the city manager's assistant, Cheryl McGrady.

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