The town of Longboat Key seeks to collect more than $20,000 in special legal counsel fees and counting from Gene Jaleski for a dismissed elections complaint.
Longbeach Village Gene Jaleski believes the town broke the law by removing information from its website about a neighborhood undergrounding project last year. So, he filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission.
The Elections Commission disagreed and dismissed the complaint. Now, the town seeks more than $20,000 in legal fees and counting from Jaleski to deal with his complaint.
In December, Commissioner Lynn Larson requested records of legal fees incurred by the town associated with pending and past litigation brought against the town by Jaleski.
As of Dec. 31, 2015, special legal counsel Tallahassee-based Bryant, Miller Olive had charged the town $11,656.68 for the current elections commission complaint.
Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale’s law firm, Persson & Cohen, has charged $8,859.50 for the same complaint through January, bringing the total to $20,516.18 and counting.
Now, the town is preparing to collect the legal fees from Jaleski involved with having Mooney-Portale and special legal counsel Christopher Rowe, of Bryant, Miller Olive, represent the town in the matter over the last three months.
Jaleski said he would fight the town’s attempt to collect legal fees.
“I’m a champion of the people, and I will fight this,” Jaleski said. “You can’t accuse me of doing something maliciously.”
Jaleski said by going after legal fees, the town is telling its residents they don’t have a right to dispute the town’s policies.
“This will completely chill participation in the public process for the town of Longboat Key,” Jaleski said. “It’s ridiculous and causing me a high level of stress knowing that I am the target of the commission for whatever reason.”
The Elections Commission ruled there was no probable cause and dismissed the case Jan. 29 because it “was legally insufficient.” It also stated Jaleski did not submit additional information that corrected the grounds of insufficiency cited by the Elections Commission.
But Jaleski believes the complaint had merit.
He says the Town Commission acted in error when it voted to remove the parcel funding information from the town’s website without properly advertising the hearing “because it was casting an unpopular light on the commission’s Gulf of Mexico Drive referendum.”
“I feel the town violated the law,” Jaleski said in November. “They illegally removed data from the town website that taxpayer dollars paid for.”
Mooney-Portale has advised commissioners not to comment on the case because the Elections Commission has yet to make a determination about probable cause for another complaint Jaleski filed regarding the same issue prior to the Oct. 15 complaint. The commission will make that ruling in the coming weeks, Mooney-Portale said.
The Oct. 15 complaint alleged that the town prematurely removed information from the its website and manipulated a referendum vote Nov. 3, in which voters approved a $20.5 million Gulf of Mexico Drive undergrounding project.