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Commission questions town attorney's advice

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  • | 4:00 a.m. March 19, 2014
  • Longboat Key
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Some Longboat Key commissioners are beginning to question the legal advice they are receiving from Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale.

Longboat Key Mayor Jim Brown added an agenda item to the Longboat Key Town Commission’s Monday regular workshop to discuss the town attorney and her progress in the role.

Brown made the decision after Colony Beach & Tennis Resort Association attorney Don Hemke informed the commission at a March 4 public nuisance hearing that his client had not received due process after receiving some witness reports less than a week before the hearing. One report was released the day before the hearing.

Former town attorney Dave Persson, who sat with the commission at the hearing due to his previous legal knowledge of the Colony and because he works for the same law firm as Mooney-Portale, agreed with Hemke’s assessment that the association had not received due process. The commission continued a hearing that decides the fate of rundown Colony units until May.

Brown expressed frustration after the hearing, telling the Longboat Observer “there’s going to have to be questions asked and questions answered from our legal counsel.”

But at the commission’s regular workshop Monday, Brown said he had discussed his issues internally with Mooney-Portale, Persson and Town Manager Dave Bullock.

“A document (see sidebar) has been put together, establishing the expectations we have for our town attorney,” Brown said. “As a result, I think we should give our town attorney an opportunity to get up to speed.”

Brown noted that Mooney-Portale has only been the town’s attorney for eight months and was on maternity leave from October until early January.

“I don’t think she’s had enough time to be judged,” Brown said. “I would like to wait and have this discussion again in the fall.”

Commissioner Jack Duncan agreed, noting that commissioners have to communicate with Mooney-Portale as much as possible to relay their concerns.

Commissioners Lynn Larson and Phill Younger, though, took the opportunity to reveal concerns with Mooney-Portale during the workshop.

Larson said the town had a chance to find a new town attorney but never really switched because it kept the same law firm and still seeks Persson’s legal advice in matters such as the Colony.

“We almost made a change but we didn’t, and we are compounding the mistake by dragging this out,” Larson said.

Younger made no comments regarding Mooney-Portale’s performance during the discussion item, but became frustrated during Mooney-Portale’s town attorney comments at the end of the workshop.

Mooney-Portale said the town will seek a legal opinion in a memo from Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office to get direction about the Planning and Zoning Board’s ability to take on duties of the Zoning Board of Adjustment if ZBA members cannot meet.

Younger, a member of the Georgia bar for more than 30 years, and planning board member George Symanski Jr., a former attorney with more than 30 years of experience in such areas, do not believe planning board members can serve under both capacities. But Mooney-Portale has suggested planning board members could handle such duties on an as-needed basis.

Younger said he disagrees with getting an opinion from Bondi’s office because the opinion will not be binding, explaining to the Longboat Observer he would rather see Mooney-Portale make her own legal decision.

“It doesn’t seem like sound legal advice,” Younger said at the workshop.

Mooney-Portale told the commission Monday she “appreciates the opportunity to continue on.”

The commission is responsible for the hiring and firing of only two Longboat Key officials: the town manager and the town attorney.

Town Attorney Expectations Memo
Excerpts from the following memo Town Manager Dave Bullock crafted last week with input from commissioners regarding the expectations for Town Attorney Maggie Moooney-Portale in the future.

• Attorney will provide clear advice to commission on a variety of issues when the law is established and known to attorney;

• If law is not well-settled or the facts are not clear, then, attorney will so explain, providing “if/then” scenarios;

• If the attorney does not know the law as to a particular issue or if the complexity of the issue is such as to require more analysis, the attorney will so state and request time to conduct analysis and report back to commission. A timeline for the report will be provided;

• Clear options, guidance and recommendations on issues that have legal aspects that must be considered by the commission; if an issue is believed to be primarily policy or political in nature, the attorney shall explain why the issue is not a legal concern.

Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]



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