Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

City Eager for Deal on Sunshine Complaint

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

City Eager for Deal on Sunshine Complaint

Article excerpt


SARASOTA: As legal costs rise, officials take new stab at a settlement offer

With legal bills from the most recent Sunshine complaint likely to top out near $50,000, Sarasota city commissioners are eager to make a deal, and some lay blame for the debacle at the door of City Manager Tom Barwin.

The City Commission voted Thursday to make a second settlement offer in the lawsuit over a meeting on homelessness between city officials and a business group, after a first attempt was rejected last week. The city's total costs in legal fees could come in under $50,000 if an agreement is reached soon, according to City Attorney Bob Fournier.

The complaint, filed last month by Citizens for Sunshine, a nonprofit concerned with open government, alleged that two commissioners were part of a meeting on homelessness held out of public view in violation of the state's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law. City commissioners Susan Chapman and Suzanne Atwell, along with Barwin, had stepped over the line, according to the complaint, by meeting with downtown merchants to discuss homelessness issues without giving public notice or keeping minutes. The suit named Chapman and Atwell along with the city and sought to reclaim damages from them personally.

Chapman has maintained that she did not violate the law and has said she thinks the city should fight the case. Atwell, meanwhile, has signed an agreement with Citizens for Sunshine removing her as a defendant and obligating her to attend the city's next Sunshine Law training.

She is also to pay a $500 donation to support homelessness efforts among veterans, which Citizens for Sunshine must match, according to the agreement. Atwell has declined to comment on the lawsuit since it was filed on Oct. 18.

The city's offer to settle the suit, and the opinion of an attorney representing Atwell, pointed to Barwin's role in turning the meeting into a Sunshine violation. …

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