- October 31, 2013
Yet another City Hall confrontation with ACLU-Sunshine Law snoopster Michael Barfield and his colleague, Sarasota lawyer Andrea Flynn Mogensen?
Every week, it seems, the news out of Sarasota City Hall has at least one prominent issue revolving around Barfield and his rooting through public records in search of truth, justice and the American way!
We endured the battle between Barfield- ACLU and the City Commission over the homeless soliciting in the street at busy intersections.
• In March 2013, Citizens for Sunshine (i.e., Barfield, Mogensen) brought suit against the city for not holding a public hearing on the State Street Parking Garage. The city settled.
• In April 2013, Citizens filed again, halting the meetings of a homeless advisory committee. The city settled.
• In October 2013, Barfield put the Sunshine kabong on Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Susan Chapman for attending a meeting with downtown business owners on homelessness.
• Then in December 2013, he targeted the emails of some members of the St. Armands Business Improvement District — in search of Sunshine Law violations.
And now, last week, he brought to light accusations that the city’s Independent Police Advisory Panel has been violating Sunshine Laws since its inception.
You have to roll your eyes when you read the letter of Mogensen, on behalf of Citizens for Sunshine, to City Attorney Robert Fournier. Here’s an amazing excerpt:
“After review of the video and audio of the meetings of the IPAP, as well as emails of its ex-officio and regular members, there is a serious and systemic Sunshine Law infection of virtually everything the IPAP has done that reaches back more than three years.”
Sarasota city taxpayers must really be wondering: What is going on?
In one respect, these repeated lawsuits and confrontations with Barfield, Mogensen, the ACLU and Citizens for Sunshine can be viewed as a tiresome, public annoyance. While cloaked in the capes of protecting the taxpayers, Barfield and Mogensen appear to have a business strategy of targeting City Hall for financial gain — the classic trial-lawyer game of suing with the intent and hope of settling for a monetary gain.
In the most recent incident with the police advisory panel, the settlement amount offered won’t exactly make Barfield and Mogensen rich — $2,500. But they’ve created a threat: settle or spend thousands more on legal fees defending the city. Few city governments want to go that route.
In another respect, Sarasota taxpayers might want to applaud Barfield and Mogensen. In spite of their litigiousness, they can be viewed as performing a public service — serving as aggressive, on-call watchdogs preventing improper and illegal shenanigans that inevitably bubble up in government if no one is watching.
And indeed, that’s what they have done, as evidenced by the list of incidents above.
Nonetheless, you have to believe many of Sarasota’s silent-majority taxpayers are saying to themselves: If the same thing happens over and over again, there is an obvious breakdown. In business, every owner knows, if the same problems keep occurring, you need to change your procedure and behavior.
Likewise, if Barfield and Mogensen repeatedly find questionable open-government behavior among the city’s advisory board members and elected officials, there obviously is a breakdown.
It’s not likely every one of the alleged violators is maliciously and purposely trying to skirt the public-records laws. A more likely explanation is a lack of knowledge of the law and rules.
And who is charged with advising city officials on upholding the law?
Sarasota taxpayers are weary of these Sunshine Law allegations, violations and lawsuits. The litigation is interfering with the progress of the people’s business.
At ABC Inc., the CEO would say: This ends now. Take whatever steps are necessary to make it right.
That’s what the City Commission should say to City Attorney Robert Fournier. These Sunshine issues point back to him and how he is or isn’t educating City Hall’s many participants.
+ Citizens Voice: Randall Reid?
It is always illuminating to see who stands financially behind political candidates and causes. The contributors’ names can help voters decide how they might vote.
Lo and behold, while inspecting the financial reports of Sarasota city political groups, we came across an interesting and sizable contribution to The Citizens Voice (see box).
The Citizens Voice is the Sarasota group founded by City Commissioner Susan Chapman and longtime behind-the-scenes City Hall string puller Gretchen Serrie. Citizens Voice is adamantly opposed to an elected mayor for the city.
Recently, the group has employed the practice of “robo-calling” voters to encourage them not to sign petitions to put the elected-mayor question on the city’s general-election ballot in November.
To help fund The Citizens Voice’s efforts, the International City/County Management Association — currently the employer of former Sarasota County Administrator Randall Reid — pumped in $6,000.
Note also the names of former Sarasota mayors — Palmer, Cardamone, Martin.
The Citizens Voice? Talk about a misnomer.
TO SQUELCH THE CITIZENS’ VOICE
The following were listed as contributors to the Citizens Voice political group in March. The group opposes petitions to put the question of an elected mayor on the November ballot.
• ICMA $6,000
(International City/County Management Association)
• Lou Ann Palmer $500
• Elmer Berkel $200
• Barbra Campo $200
• Eileen Normile $150
• Mollie Cardamone $100
• Richard Martin $100
• Gretchen Serrie $100
DON’T FORGET TO DONATE YOUR FOOD OR CASH
The first wave of snowbirds heading north started driving and flying March 31, the end of their three-month stays away from the weather misery back home. And from now through May, the ’birds will continue their northern migration.
If you happen to be one of that flock, hopefully you have heard about CASH — Campaign Against Summer Hunger. A joint effort of All Faiths Food Bank and Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the campaign is hoping to raise $500,000 in cash to match $500,000 already collected, and bring in 600,000 pounds of non-perishable food items.
The goal is to stock up for the summer to be able to help feed as many as 10,000 children in the region who rely on subsidized food at their public schools. When schools close for the summer, those children lose that source of nourishment.
The food-and-cash campaign began April 1 and will run through May 10.
So if you’re planning to head north, or even if you live here year-round, All Faiths Food Bank has made it easy for you. Donate your non-perishables at any Sarasota County fire station or Goodwill store or collection center.
To make a cash contribution, donors can contribute online at SkipALunch.org, or send a check to:
All Faiths Food Bank
8171 Blaikie Court
Sarasota, FL, 34240