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Letters

BY STAN ZIMMERMAN SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY FEB 14, 2015

City Commission Candidate Matt Wooddall’s piece in SRQ Daily’s Opinion Edition sets a new low not only for the writer but the publication. Wooddall is currently running for the seat I occupy representing the city’s Third District.

The first sentence contains a critical error. Wooddall says the vice mayor committed a crime. In politics, of course, anything goes. But in the practice of journalism, that’s slander. His sentence concludes: “…in the face of her Sunshine Law violation.” In fact, there is no judicial determination anybody violated the Sunshine Law when two city commissioners met 18 months ago with merchants to hear complaints about the impact of vagrants on business. Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Susan Chapman were there to listen. The two did not talk to each other of any conceivable future actions. This kind of interchange is a long-established practice. How else are organizations expected to share concerns with elected representatives? 

Wooddall’s assertion mirrors exactly the pleading filed by attorney Andrea Mogensen for “Citizens for Sunshine.” Wooddall worked with Mogensen associate Michael Barfield circulating a petition for a strong mayor exempt from Sunshine Law requirements. If Wooddall read the case file, he’d find no references to prior judicial decisions upholding his assertion. Chapman did not capitulate. Private attorneys ran up about $80,000 in legal fees before Atwell – joined by then-Commissioners Paul Caragiulo and Shannon Snyder – cut off funding for Chapman’s lawyers, a turning point in city history. Never had the City of Sarasota abandoned legal defense of an employee or volunteer not charged with criminal behavior.

Since Chapman’s city defense was stopped, her lawyers ran up another $24,000, which she is personally responsible to pay. I followed with increasing dismay the effort to exclude Ms. Chapman and any other city employee or volunteer from legal protection should a majority wish to “throw them under the bus.” This is where Mr. Wooddall’s conspiratorial mindset steps in. He wrote: “I question whether my opponent is engaging in some political ‘back scratching.’ ” That would imply more Sunshine Law violations. Wooddall issued the allegation without a scintilla of evidence; there is none. I have a 40-year reputation of honesty and fair dealing in this community. To have a political candidate accuse me of criminal behavior was unexpected and unwarranted. To include four commissioners in his allegation bodes poorly for him and the city should voters pick Wooddall to serve a four-year term.

Mr. Wooddall’s cites a $104,000 bill, but fails to acknowledge $80,000 was previously approved by Caragiulo, Snyder and Atwell. He also failed to examine costs run up in continued lawsuits. The activities of Mogensen and Barfield cost the City of Sarasota $704,000 in the past three years. In round numbers, the city paid $108,000 to the Mogensen law firm, $181,000 to the city attorney to defend a variety of suits launched by Mogensen and Barfield, $125,000 in “deductibles” for legal insurance for civil rights cases, and $291,000 to “outside attorneys” for several cases brought by Mogensen and Barfield. Mr. Wooddall’s bluster is about $24,000 paid since the cut-off a year ago.

When faced with a bully, you must fight back. Wooddall would rather give in, that’s clear.

Stan Zimmerman was a journalist for 40 years before his appointment to the Sarasota City Commission three months ago. He is running for Sarasota City Commission District 3.

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