On Monday evening, December 2nd, the Sarasota City Commission discussed whether or not to approve payment of the full cost of Commissioner Chapman’s legal defense in the sunshine lawsuit filed by Citizens for Sunshine. After a lot of hemming and hawing, the Commission approved a 90 day extension of Chapman’s legal defense. I’ve uploaded the “cliffnotes” of the discussion – thirteen minutes including each motion and it’s outcome, along with some commentary. One memorable moment: Commissioner Shaw admonishing his colleagues for “punking out”.
This edited version includes Commissioner Chapman sharing documentation with her colleagues showing she did not receive a settlement offer when Commissioner Atwell did. Some have said Commissioner Chapman is being unreasonable and prolonging litigation. She brought forward information demonstrating how she has not had the same opportunities to settle the case as Commissioner Atwell, and also shared how she had received no response (at that point) to her attempt to negotiate a settlement.
What was odd (and a bit ironic) was the lack of spontaneous discussion by the Commissioners, and how some of them seemed to be looking at each other, searching for what to do, yet saying very little. That gives the impression of somehow orchestrating an outcome – the very thing the sunshine law is designed to prevent. When Commissioner Chapman showed she did not receive any settlement offer from her attorney – her integrity has been called into question on this – it seemed to make some of her colleagues uncomfortable (lots of shifting around). It also generated very little discussion.
Viewing the whole discussion, what really blew me away was the Commission barring those who had previously spoken on the topic at a prior meeting from giving public input again.* WOW. The whole lawsuit is about transparency – the citizen’s right to know and what is going on in government – and the Commission is barring some people from giving input. That’s incredible.
Our Commission ought to recognize that each one of them sits at the table because the voters put them there. Commissioner Chapman won a City wide race – she is an “at large” Commissioner. Commissioner Chapman, along with Commissioner Atwell, enjoys the endorsement and confidence of a majority of City-wide voters. The recent Commission race was particularly contentious. Some Commissioners at the table supported other candidates, and some of the rhetoric out there was particularly nasty. The voters spoke, and it’s time for the Commission to work together. The voters in the City have confidence in the judgment and veracity of Commissioner Chapman. Their colleagues ought to have her back, and their default position ought to be giving her the benefit of the doubt and a legal defense.
It’s always better to view the full discussion to capture all those moments. I’ve included a half hour upload of the full City Commission discussion, below. If you really want to see everything, go to the City Commission link for the whole meeting and start at 5:16:33. The full discussion I uploaded to YouTube does not included Bob Fournier’s opening remarks, and some really great public input. Watching it all will take about an hour. I try to keep the stuff uploaded to a shortened version that is less than 15 minutes, and a full version of the Commission discussion that is less than half an hour (the longer the video, the less likely people will have time to watch it).
If you’re willing to invest an hour, Fournier’s opening remarks are well worth watching. He raises important points – one is the chilling effect on potential candidates for City Commission. There is great public input from Bill Fuller, Commissioner Chapman’s attorney, Jude Levy on the effect on Commissioner participation in neighborhood association meetings, and Eileen Normile on the impact on advisory board members.
*at 5:23:20 http://sarasota.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=6242
link to the full meeting, Chapman’s legal fees discussion begins at 5:16:33.
Half hour view of the City Commission discussion