TOP STORY, February: Campaign issue escalates

 

TOP STORY, February: Campaign issue escalates

 

Date: December 25, 2009
by: Kurt Schultheis | City Editor

 
 

Throughout the holiday week, YourObserver.com will be counting down the top 12 stories of 2009 (one from each month) from our Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers. Check back each day fro a reprinting — and any relevant updates — of the biggest news items of the year.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED Feb. 19, 2009

With a month to go until Longboaters cast their votes for an at-large commission candidate, a Planning, Zoning and Building application that has not even been reviewed by a town board has become a campaign controversy.

In December, Town Attorney David Persson warned the Town Commission, town board members, Commissioner-elect Jim Brown and at-large candidate Gene Jaleski that it’s a problem for them to state an opinion or review the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s $400 million Islandside application until it’s presented to them in a quasi-judicial hearing.

At the Planning and Zoning Board regular meeting Tuesday, Feb. 17, Persson reiterated his stance after board member David Brenner asked for clarification.

“My job as your attorney is to make sure every decision you make cannot be challenged in court,” Persson said. “It’s a fundamental principle of law to have a fair forum in which you can express yourself only after the evidence can be presented to you.”

Persson explained that the Key Club application, which presently is being challenged by three Islandside community associations, is no different than any other application that comes before the planning board and the Town Commission.

“Think about what you would expect if you went to a court proceeding and discovered the judge talking to one side or the other without you being present,” Persson said. “It’s called due process, and it comes down to fundamental fairness.”

In an effort “to keep everything pure,” Persson continues to recommend to those individuals that they not review the application on file, even though he said they have the right to look at it if they wish.

“You may have the right to look at it (the application), but I don’t want you to,” Persson said, “because what’s filed today may not be what you ultimately hear.”

Persson also recommends that those individuals stay away from the Zoning Board of Adjustment hearings in April, which will decide whether the application on file is complete.

“And I ask that you not take part in or listen to forums where this is discussed and where there are two sides making arguments,” Persson said.

The commissioners, town board members and Brown are complying with Persson’s wishes.

And the planning board has even asked Persson for a more detailed outline of what can be done and what cannot be done until the project is reviewed.

But Jaleski, who continues to oppose the project as proposed in public settings, says he will not change his position.

Jaleski said commissioners have three roles: to direct the town manager as quasi-administrators; to act as quasi-judicial judges if an applicant comes before them; and to act as legislators to change town codes.

“I believe I have a right under the First Amendment to tell the voters my view on the subject,” Jaleski said.

“And, if elected, when I am in quasi-judicial mode, an applicant could only challenge me if it’s shown that I am being biased or not basing my views strictly on the facts that are presented.”

Jaleski’s opponent, incumbent at-large Commissioner Randall Clair, disagrees.

“By prejudging the matter, he (Jaleski) has tainted himself,” Clair said.

Clair, who says he is fully aware of the issues residents have about the Islandside project, believes that if Jaleski is elected, the Key Club and Resort will challenge his ability to sit as an impartial judge on the matter.

Contact Kurt Schultheis at kschultheis@yourobserver.com

 

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