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City, officials, go to mediation in UEP lawsuit

By Staff | Nov 5, 2010

Mayor John Sullivan’s and Councilmember Bill Deile’s utility-related lawsuit against the city might be closer to a resolution.
A mediated settlement filed with the 20th Judicial Circuit of Florida says that Deile would receive $5,000, $1,500 of which would be donated to the city’s Charter School System’s Scholarship Fund; and Sullivan would receive $1, which would be donated to the American Cancer Society.
If approved by city council, both Deile and Sullivan would agree to drop the case/claim, and pay all of their own legal bills.
The agreement is a “package settlement” and has to be agreed upon by Deile, Sullivan, and another party named Robert Sylvester, who also would be due $5,000.
The settlement must be either approved or rejected by the three parties, and city council, in its entirety.
City council is expected to discuss the settlement in a “shade,” or closed meeting, though the time of that meeting is unknown.
Following the shade meeting, city council is expected to discuss the settlement from the dais, likely through a consent agenda item, but Deile and Sullivan would not be allowed to vote.
So far, the lawsuit, which contested the methodology used by the city to levy utility assessments, has cost the city more than $67,000 in legal fees.
City Attorney Dolores Menendez said she would not be making a recommendation on the proposed settlement.
“Our office does not make formal recommendations on settlements,” Menendez said. “We simply explain the facts. The council has to decide whether or not to settle.”
Deile said the lawsuit, filed before either council member was elected, has been successful in some regards.
While he hasn’t achieved a sizable rebate on the original $34,000 assessment he paid, nor a new methodology on assessments, Deile said the process has still helped him to partly achieve the original goal.
“I think the process has accomplished highlighting the ills of the way things were done in the past,” Deile said.
Councilmember Marty McClain fears the suit will open the door to further litigation from others who believe they were wronged under the assessment methodology used.
He said, too, that if council does not approve the settlement, it could go into full-on litigation.
“It could continue to be a costly burden for the citizens of this city,” McClain said.
Deile said the statute of limitations has expired and the settlement will likely not lead to other suits.
Deile also said that little attention is being paid to a settlement the city recently made with another lawsuit, in which the city paid $1.8 million, plus another $225,000 in attorney fees.
“You don’t hear too many people complaining about that lawsuit,” Deile said.
Mayor John Sullivan said that city council has the opportunity to now change the assessment methodology, and possibly save future customers thousands of dollars.
That goal is why he entered into the lawsuit nearly four years ago, he said.
“We have a chance to change what we wanted to change,” Sullivan said. “We didn’t have it before and that’s why the lawsuit happened in the first place.”