LARGO - A Largo citizen, Curtis Holmes, made an extensive records request at the City Hall April 24, and his quest has turned up many items of interest, and some of at least mild alarm.
Holmes, an active voice in city affairs for years, was doing with his request in April what any citizen is entitled to do at any government center. That is, make a request for records.
In making such a request, one does not have to be a resident of that particular city, cannot, by law, be asked to give a name, address, phone number, Social Security number, a reason for the request or the purpose of the use of the information.
Any governmental entities requiring such information are violating the law. Belleair Beach, for instance, tried it a couple of years ago but the attempt was nipped in the bud.
The list of requests that Holmes made is extensive. He has already had some of them fulfilled and while use of the "L" word is avoided in this story, there is a variance with the facts on some of the answers given.
For example, Pat Gerard, who was then a commissioner, participated last October in discussion and voting on an issue in which she had a clear conflict of interest.
Holmes, citing the fact that Gerard at that time mentioned that she had met with and talked to Alan Zimmet, the city's lawyer, asked for notes on that meeting, including dates and times.
Zimmet's answer was a flat denial that he had met with Gerard on the matter.
Circumstances would indicate otherwise.
As an elected official, Gerard had to know about the law respecting conflict of interest. If not, then elected officials should be held have such knowledge under a strict liability theory meaning that they know or should know the law.
The law is this -
"Chapter 112.314 (3)(a) -- No county, municipal, or other local public officer shall vote in an official capacity upon any measure which would inure to his or her special private gain or loss; which he or she knows would inure to the special private gain or loss of any principal by whom he or she is retained or to the parent organization or subsidiary of a corporate principal by which he or she is retained . . ."
Gerard wanted to install a welfare program in the old library on behalf of her employer, Family Resources, Inc.
At the October meeting, she introduced Zimmet as having something to say before she embarked on her comments on behalf of her employer. This is on video tape and can be seen on the Largo web site.
One observer expressed the danger of that tape and other evidence being tampered with as was the case on several occasions when matters embarrassing to the city administration went missing from TV re-runs of the commission meetings.
Last October, Zimmet cited a St. Petersburg case as a precedent that allowed Gerard to participate and vote.
It turned out that the precedent was not even close to the Gerard situation. Later, Gerard's case before the state Ethics Commission was found to have probable cause but the recommendation was to do nothing, on the basis that the lawyer (Zimmet) said it was okay, thus establishing a new and unique defense in the annals of law.
The worst position Zimmet is left in is "I was wrong." This establishes a dangerous practice that would give governments unbridled power wherein a city lawyer, always in cahoots with the governing power, gives an okay for something and no claim for ethics violation can succeed.
Anyone thinking of the circumstances in the Gerard conflict of interest case would come up with the scenario - probably true - that Gerard, aware of the conflict, talked to City Manager Steve Stanton about it and he brought Zimmet into the picture who then came up with the inapplicable precedent.
What is alarming is that Zimmet denies any meeting took place despite Gerard's very public testimony to the contrary.
In another shocking example of a city response to one of Holmes's requests that is at total variance with the facts, was his asking for Stanton's communications to the Charter Review Committee.
The response to that was this -
"No written correspondence was sent to the Charter Commission."
In direct contradiction of this answer is the letter dated November 23, 2005 from Stanton to the City Commission which was also sent to the Charter Commission. Obviously, a copy of any letter sent to the Charter group constitutes correspondence.
The seven-page letter outlined what Stanton thought should be in the charter. The City Commission saw to it that most of his ideas were incorporated, making a joke, in the final analysis, of the whole charter review.
These are just two examples of what Holmes's requests have unearthed. Others are currently undergoing exploration and examination.
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