Clewiston may sue former engineer over documents

CLEWISTON — City Attorney Gary Brandenburg recommended at their June 3 meeting that city commissioners let him issue an ultimatum to the city’s former engineering firm, Johnson-Prewitt & Associates, to produce needed documents that are public records or face a city lawsuit.

The commission voted 4-1 to authorize him to do so after a short discussion.

Mr. Brandenburg told commissioners: “It’s unfortunate, but your former city engineer has not responded to our request for public records. So consequently, I have really no option other than to recommend that we file a lawsuit against your engineer on June 10 if he has not provided us with the documents by that date.”

Mayor Mali Gardner asked for confirmation that they are public records, and he replied that they were. Melanie McGahee made the motion and, after a quick second from Commissioner Julio Rodriguez, she said: “There are actually records that we are missing that Shari (Interim City Manager Howell) and I have had some discussions about in the last week, that we do not have. So it’s not some arbitrary or capricious request. We need those records in order to move forward.”

Vice Mayor Michael Atkinson asked whether they could go into some sort of agreement with Tommy Perry, who heads the firm, pointing out that when citizens make a public records request of the city, they have to pay for copies and staff time, etc.

Mr. Brandenburg explained that Johnson-Prewitt already had signed a contract that specifies the firm had to immediately turn over all public records it had in its possession upon termination of their contract, which the commission did a few months ago.

“We’ve asked them in writing to do that three times, and they have not. Today I got a letter from their counsel indicating that they have given all those public records to the city at the end of each of their engagements with the city. … That is just not the case. We’re not getting any cooperation,” he said.

Mr. Atkinson said he agreed with that attorney because “whenever he did something, there were documents given to the city.”

Mr. Brandenburg said they’re required to turn over all materials used in the decision-making, not just the final reports, pointing out that it’s a violation of Florida law if the firm failed to comply, “subject to civil and criminal penalties.”

When Mayor Gardner called for a vote, the motion passed 4-1 with Mr. Atkinson voting nay.

On other matters, the Clewiston commissioners:
• Approved a resolution authorizing purchase of line maintenance services to the city’s Transmission Line No. 1 West by Irby Construction Co. at a cost not to exceed $30,000.
• Approved a resolution as a “housekeeping” matter to revise the electrical rates shown in the Clewiston Code of Ordinances to reflect a 1-cent increase per kilowatt-hour imposed back in 2001.
• Unanimously approved resolutions to execute contracts for disaster debris removal and disposal services with Ridgdill & Son Inc. and with U.S. Sugar Corp. for the use of a parcel of property for debris management in the aftermath of a tropical storm or hurricane.
• OK’d the conversion of city phones to a new system that will save the city about $10, 000 per year.
• Learned from Interim City Manager Howell that their first budget workshop will be June 17.

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