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City investigating claim of Sunshine Law violations

By Staff | Aug 19, 2010

Responding to allegations made by a longtime island resident during a City Council meeting last month, the City of Sanibel has launched an internal investigation pertaining to 1) whether Raintree Place is officially determined to be an extended road easement and 2) whether the claims made by

the resident that city employees knowingly withheld public documents that may have had a direct bearing on legal proceedings for a case dropped by the state six years ago.

In a 25-page memorandum from the city’s legal department to members of the City Council, City Attorney Ken Cuyler assembled responses to eight different aspects of the complaint brought forward by Steve Maxwell during the council’s July 20 session.

Within the memo, Cuyler provides his legal opinion to the Sunshine Law violation allegations made by Maxwell, including documents detailing the location and nature of the area off Island Inn Road the resident claims is a road, background and analysis of the legal status of the easement, whether the newly-discovered city street map found by Maxwell has any bearing on the legal conclusions or opinions that the easement is not a road as defined by the Land Development Code, and the attorney’s response that Maxwell has not been treated fairly or professionally.

“The majority of the easement area depicted on the map submitted by Mr. Maxwell, which he claims is a ‘road,’ does not even legally exist and was legally vacated in 2008 (and the ‘road’ has never physically existed),” Cuyler wrote in his Aug. 6 memo. “In addition, Mr. Maxwell has no legal

standing to object to the private actions of the Gombergs and Fairman/Rothschilds because Mr. Maxwell has no legal interest or rights whatsoever in the private easement that is located (or rather was located) only on the Gomberg parcel and the Fairman/Rothschild parcel.”

Responding to Maxwell’s argument that the easement is legally an extension of Raintree Place, Cuyler suggests that the resident has no legal right to travel upon or enter that area.

“Although it is undisputed that Mr. Maxwell has the legal right to access and travel upon Raintree Place between Island Inn Road and the southern boundary of the Gromber and Fairman/Rothschild parcels, it is equally undisputed that Mr. Maxwell has no legal right whatsoever (and never did

have any right) to cross the southern property line of the Gomberg and Fairman/Rothschild parcels to even enter upon or use the easement that Mr. Maxwell claims is the ‘extension of Raintree Place,’” Cuyler stated.

“The fact of the matter is that any argument that ‘Raintree Place’ is a road that extends from Island Inn Road through the southern boundary of the Gomberg and Fairman/Rothschild parcel and around the Gomberg Parcel, is factually and legally baseless,” he concluded.

Cuyler also suggests that the map submitted before the council last month “does not change any of the facts of the situation.

“Mr. Maxwell’s newly-discovered map adds nothing to his arguments and the legal analysis and conclusion remain exactly the same,” wrote Cuyler.

In his analysis of claims that Maxwell has not been treated professionally by city employees throughout the legal proceedings through the years, Cuyler explained in the memo that “Mr. Maxwell lost his right to any professional respect when he made his attacks on other city staff members and me a personal objective as opposed to business.”

While the City Council has yet to officially respond to Maxwell’s allegations, they are expected to do so at their Sept. 11 special session.

“Every dollar of taxpayer money and every hour of staff time spent on responding to Mr. Maxwell’s baseless allegations is a dollar of taxpayer money and an hour of staff time that is not spent on addressing the legitimate interests and concerns of the citizens of Sanibel,” Cuyler’s memo

concluded.