By Tim Pallesen
A judge says the Caron Foundation must pay $27,788 to Delray Beach in a public records request for more than 200,000 emails that Caron wants to investigate in its lawsuit against the city.
Caron wants to review all email communications sent and received by 16 city officials since August 2007 to learn who said what to whom before Delray Beach approved three ordinances to restrict sober housing in February.
“We’re trying to uncover backroom communications between the political machine and elected officials to determine the true intent of the ordinances,” Caron Executive Vice President Andrew Rothermel said.
Caron sued the city in federal court on Feb. 24 to overturn the ordinances that the City Council approved three days before.
Caron followed up on March 27 by requesting a preliminary injunction to allow it to immediately open a sober house at 1232 Seaspray Ave. that the city refused to approve on Feb. 22.
Caron’s attorney Jim Green provided newspaper articles and meeting minutes to bolster that request.
“After going through tens of thousands of documents already, it’s absolutely clear that the city decided to retaliate against Caron for having the gumption to locate a quality home for recovering addicts and alcoholics in an affluent neighborhood east of the Intracoastal,” Green said.
To investigate more, Caron wants the e-mails of the mayor and council members, planning and zoning board members, city manager, city attorney and other officials.
Delray Beach responded to that request by saying the e-mails would cost $21,744 for an in-house attorney to first inspect for exempt and confidential material at a cost of $60.15 per hour for 362 hours, plus another $6,043 for network engineering time.
Caron then sued in state circuit court, calling those costs excessive. But Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley sided with the city.
“While use of an attorney may not always be appropriate in a public records review, the evidence in this case establishes that the proposed review is reasonable,” Kelley wrote in his ruling. “While the hourly rate for an in-house attorney may be higher than other personnel, this is offset by which the counsel can identify the confidential or exempt materials.”
Kelley also rejected Caron’s request for Delray Beach to assist in obtaining personal cell phone records from the same 16 city officials, ruling that those records are not public.
The city’s victory is the first court ruling in what’s expected to be a long and costly battle that began last December when coastal property owners discovered Caron’s plans to open two sober houses for wealthy recovering drug addicts and alcoholics near the ocean.
Some unconvinced by Caron’s assurances
Rothermel explained why Caron came to Delray Beach in a March 16 speech before a members-only Chamber of Commerce meeting.
“Delray Beach is the most attractive community in the country for recovery,” he told a subdued room of Chamber members. “There’s a ton of people in recovery here.”
Unlike sober houses located west of the Intracoastal Waterway, Caron is marketing “a highly sophisticated program for individuals of affluence,” Rothermel said.
Clients will pay more than $50,000 a month to receive treatment in Boca Raton while living in Caron’s sober houses on Seaspray Avenue and at 740 N. Ocean Blvd.
“People are lining up,” he said.
Rothermel described the program’s first client as the top-ranking executive of a large European company who stayed at the Boca Raton Resort and Club during his 60 days of treatment because the Delray houses aren’t open.
“Because our patients are highly functioning and successful, the impact on this community will be low,” he assured the Chamber members.
“If not for a couple dozen residents on the barrier island making a big fuss about this, you would never know they were here,” Rothermel said. “Let us show you that we’re going to be good neighbors.”
His assurance didn’t satisfy Cary Glickstein, a coastal resident who chairs the city’s planning and zoning board.
“You don’t operate in a neighborhood where you live,” Glickstein told Rothermel at the March 16 meeting. “Don’t you see the hypocrisy?”
By Tim Pallesen