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"I don't feel that we got bad legal advice. The saying always goes that you get two lawyers in a room and end up with three opinions ... " Mayor Jim Brown said.
Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 19, 2012 9 years ago

Town officials defend legal advice

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

They should be ashamed of themselves. They should resign immediately. They wasted taxpayer dollars. They didn’t follow town codes.

Longboat Key town commissioners have heard it all from some of the residents behind the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Islandside gates. The residents feel vindicated now that the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal affirmed a previous ruling that quashed the town-approved development order for the resort’s Islandside renovation-and-expansion project. The Key Club intends to resubmit its application any day now.

Commissioners have gotten emails, personally heard the comments and read them in the newspaper.
Islandside residents Gerald and Vivienne Ross sent an email to Mayor Jim Brown Sept. 5, urging him and other commissioners to step down.

“The present town commissioners (except for one) should be replaced, including yourself!” Gerald and Vivian Ross wrote to Brown. “And the attorney (David Persson) representing the town is a disgrace and should be fired immediately.”

Earlier this month, Islandside Property Owners Coalition President Bob White told the Longboat Observer: “The fact that the court has upheld the ruling shows that the Town Commission has egregiously exercised its power and abused its code in violation of the law. Frankly, I think that those commission members who are still sitting, who agreed to this, should resign. I think they owe the residents of Longboat Key, as well as the residents of Islandside, an apology.”

Listed below are the reactions of the seven Longboat Key commissioners in response to the accusations they received poor legal advice. Commissioners were also asked if they would consider hiring an in-house legal attorney to cut down on legal expenses, which Commissioner Lynn Larson has suggested in the past. A reaction from Town Attorney David Persson is also included.


“I don’t feel that we got bad legal advice. The saying always goes that you get two lawyers in a room and end up with three opinions. I tend to think that this was one court’s interpretation. As far as an in-house attorney, I would have to see the positives and negatives of it, first. It was brought up in the past, and there were a lot of costs involved. Plus, the knowledge and experience attorney David Persson offers would be hard to replace.”
— Mayor Jim Brown

“No one is ever going to get me to apologize or be ashamed of myself over this. We didn’t break the law, and we took what I still believe was sound legal advice from our attorney. I think the court was wrong, but it’s time to move on amicably in the future, and I hope the IPOC folks can do the same thing. IPOC won that particular battle, and they are entitled to feel good about that. But, frankly, the reaction from some of them is a little disappointing. I’m focusing on the future now and a new application. I think we get incredibly good service from David Persson and have learned how to be efficient with his services.”
— Vice Mayor David Brenner

“Lawyers will never give you a 100% commitment to anything. In that sense, I believe David and the legal advice we got was consistent from what I would get from any other lawyer. He gave us his best advice, but you can’t predict what’s going to happen. He was forthright about the downside of it, and from the get-go, he mentioned he would rather see code changes first and an application later, but the Key Club thought they could move forward. He was always skeptical that could be problematic. There was never a guarantee we were going to win anything. I never thought we were being misled. I would be totally against an in-house attorney. You end up getting somebody who’s cheaper, inexperienced and won’t have the institutional memory, which is critical to any municipality. Taking a cheap approach to legal advice means you also tend to not go outside to get legal advice when needed.”
— Commissioner Jack Duncan

“Good legal advice gives you not only guidance but also advises you of choices you face at the beginning, and from what I remember hearing, the choices and the possibilities were clearly laid out for us. An in-house attorney would imply a current dissatisfaction with the current system, and I don’t believe one exists.”
— Commissioner Terry Gans

“I was disappointed in the legal outcome and in some of the guidance we received from our attorney. Maybe we should have fixed some of the procedural stuff first, but the Key Club wanted to file its application without fixing the codes. The legal guidance was that we were commissioners and we were told we could do what we wanted because we were the decision makers. But, I feel like some of the procedural things could have been handled better throughout the process. I have suggested an in-house attorney because our legal expenses are one of our major expenses. I would like to see ways we can get that under control. We could have someone in-house for everyday matters, and when we need more history, we could go to David Persson for his expertise.”
— Commissioner Lynn Larson

“I do not feel like we got bad legal advice. I don’t question the court’s decisions. They have a right to make a decision as they choose, I would just note that court decisions are not always indicative of the realties of a situation and often vary from court to court. As far as an in-house attorney, I would have to think about it and would need more information before I could comment on the matter.”
— Commissioner Phillip Younger

“I was the chair of the Planning and Zoning Board when the application came before us. What people seem to forget is that David Persson was very explicit when he recommended the applicant work to help make town Comp Plan and zoning changes to the town before an application was filed. But it was (Key Club attorney) John Patterson’s feeling they would rather proceed with the application under the town’s existing Comp Plan and codes. It wasn’t a matter of us not listening but that the client wanted to do it a different way. It wasn’t our decision. If the commission were to look into an in-house attorney, I don’t have a problem with that. I just don’t think they will find a cost savings.”
— Commissioner Pat Zunz

“Prior to this application coming before the town, my recommendation to the Key Club was we go through the process of having a Comp Plan discussion first and amend the plan as needed before the application was submitted because it just wasn’t clear.

It chose not to follow that advice and, frankly, there was logic to what it did, because the lengthy quasi-judicial process allowed it to state its case and convince the majority of the public there was a need to do something with the redevelopment of the club to help the Key, in general. The beauty of what the Key Club did was focus on an application and why they wanted to build the project. They used that as a vehicle to inform the public and the commission about a Key that they felt needed the project to stay up-to-date. It created a sea change of attitude about how redevelopment should be done moving forward. We all knew all along this risk that existed, and that’s why even after approval was made, the town went back and amended its Comp Plan and zoning code. So, the application should be a lot simpler this time of around when it’s re-submitted.”
— Town Attorney David Persson

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