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Resident alleges city violated Sunshine Law

By Staff | Jul 28, 2010

A detailed view of a City of Sanibel official street map, prepared in 1986, shows Raintree Place being connected with Twin Ponds Drive.

For the past eight years, resident Steve Maxwell has been at odds with the City of Sanibel.

Maxwell has contended that Raintree Place, a street that he has lived on since 1999, was to be an extended private roadway easement, eventually being connected to Twin Ponds Drive.

However, since Maxwell began his battle in 2002, the city has always maintained that Raintree Place had never been intended to be developed in that manner. He was also told, time after time, that no official city documents showing the roadway extending to Twin Ponds ever existed.

That is, until June 17 of this year.

"I was going through the city’s sewer maps, looking for documents showing drainage flood elevations, when I noticed a second pile of maps underneath them," said Maxwell. "Lo and behold, there they were — the City of Sanibel official street maps."

According to Maxwell, who had been told by both the former Deputy Director of Planning, Kenneth Pfalzer, and the current City Attorney Ken Cuyler, that no such maps existed. But his discovery of the documents, prepared by Johnson Engineering in 1986 with the city’s official seal imprinted on them, led to his confrontation at last week’s City Council session.

During the public comment portion of the session, Maxwell presented the council, Cuyler and City Manager Judie Zimomra an eight-page document. In a letter to the mayor and council, Maxwell alleges that Cuyler "conjured up injurious falsehoods to others about my character and reputation and has berated me and insulted me numerous times in his correspondence to me."

Maxwell claims that members of the city staff knowingly provided false information through several investigations into the matter, a major violation of the state’s Sunshine Law.

Over the years, two of Maxwell’s neighbors — the Greenbergs and the Rothschilds — have spent "tens of thousands of dollars worth of legal costs" attempting to resolve property issues. He also alleges that the city allowed a single-family residence to be constructed upon a subdivided lot in violation of the Land Use Plan.

The subject violation, he claims, includes an inadequate turn-around, substantially less than the 50-foot requirement noted in the city’s code requirements. Over the years, "altered" maps have been produced by the city, with a cul-de-sac drawn in by hand and others with information whited-out.

"I am of the opinion that the former Deputy Planning Director Pfalzer and City Attorney Cuyler may have made up the cul-de-sac in order to get away from the legal allegation against the city," Maxwell’s letter reads, in part.

At the July 20 meeting, Cuyler objected to being "sand-bagged" by Maxwell, telling the council that, "He hasn’t been correct in the past eight years!"

"The right thing is to admit that you made a mistake," Maxwell said to Cuyler before Mayor Kevin Ruane attempted to dissolve the heated exchange without further incident.

Cuyler later apologized to the council for his outburst, adding that he would look into the claims Maxwell alleged.

Following the meeting, Maxwell said that Ruane informed him that he would be looking into the investigation brought before the council.

"It was a very gracious gesture by the mayor, which will be for the benefit of the public," he added.

While no word has come out of Maxwell’s claim yet, he is hoping that the matter can be resolved amicably.

"I feel like I’m owed an apology, but I would like the public record to be corrected and sanctified, and I’d like some accountability for the actions of the city staff," he said. "But most of all, I’d like there to be some restoration of my neighbor’s financial responsibility."