The Coastal Star

Gulf Stream: Town sets up finances for legal wrangle

By Tim O’Meilia

    Gulf Stream town officials are girding themselves for a long battle with unhappy resident Martin O’Boyle by dipping into town reserves for an extra $100,000.
    Eight O’Boyle-related suits have been filed against the town since April 15, including a federal suit in late May over his paintings of town officials as cartoon characters, monsters and KKK-like members on the sides of his house.
 Although they didn’t announce it publicly, commissioners are preparing for legal fights with O’Boyle and his associates.
    Commissioners voted 4-1 at the May 10 meeting to allot an extra $80,000 for legal expenses and $20,000 more for professional services in the current budget. Commissioner Garrett Dering opposed the move, largely on budget procedural grounds.
    In addition, O’Boyle has attended recent Town Commission and Architectural Review and Planning Board meetings, challenging the building and zoning code interpretations of Town Manager William Thrasher and town planning consultant Marty Minor of Urban Design Kilday Studios on items not related to his own property.
    The centerpiece of O’Boyle’s lawsuit is an appeal of the commission’s March denial of his request for a 25-foot entry tower as part of a remodeling of his 1983 home on Hidden Harbour Drive. Commissioners rejected three of four variances by a 3-2 vote.
    O’Boyle’s suit argues that town officials misinterpreted the building code and that variances are not required.
In the federal suit, O’Boyle claims the paintings on his house are protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and that the town code is illegal if it prohibits the drawings.
    The other four suits are over public records requests made by O’Boyle, his Commerce Group business, one of his employees and a public records activist. None of the suits relate to his own property but to an application for a new home at 3211 N. Ocean Blvd.
    Among other things, O’Boyle challenged the 15 cents per-page copying charge and a permitted charge for labor on extensive requests. One suit said he was charged $1.75 for clerk’s time and another, by public records advocate Joel Chandler, said $3.50 was charged.
    O’Boyle claimed that only the actual cost of copying should be charged and that the few minutes required to make other copies should not require the additional fee.
    In a response filed to one suit, the town said the extra charges were made because of the work load prompted by a large number of requests and the research involved in assembling the documents. “The $1.75 was part of 366 public records filed in piecemeal fashion requesting 1,559 separate documents,” the town’s response said.
    O’Boyle also claimed some records were redacted and others not provided in a timely manner. The town denied that.

    In other business:
    • Commissioners voted unanimously to institute a five-minute limit for speakers on non-agenda items and to move public comment to the beginning of the meetings. The action was prompted by O’Boyle’s courtroom-style questioning of commissioners and town officials during recent meetings. The new policy allows speakers to make comments but not question town officials. “The presentation is just that. It’s not time for a Q and A,” said Town Attorney John Randolph, who drafted the new policy. The commission decided against a three-minute limit.
    • Commissioners decided the demonstration street light and pole erected beside the police station is too tall and the wrong color. Instead they prefer a forest green 12-foot pole. Another demonstration pole may be erected. The proposed $380,000 street lighting project calls for 53 of the lantern-style lights on residential streets and 35 cobra-head lights on A1A.
    • Commissioners postponed until June a decision on a request to divide property at 1410 N. Ocean Blvd. into three lots so the owner and neighbors can work out an agreement over landscaping and fencing.       

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Comment by Christopher O'Hare on May 30, 2013 at 6:43am

Town leaders have the authority to establish rules and procedures governing the town’s public hearings but, if I understand Town Attorney Randolph’s quote, “…it’s not time for a Q and A,” it seems unfortunate that this commission has now chosen to prohibit anyone from asking a question at a public meeting. Public discourse should be encouraged.

If commissioners consider questions from the public to be a nuisance during a town meeting, how else can a resident make a direct inquiry of a governing board without violating Florida’s Sunshine Law?

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