By Dan Moffett

    Gulf Stream may be the only municipality in South Florida where residents don’t have to guess what’s going on inside Town Hall.
    On any given day, it’s a safe bet that the town’s employees are working on public records requests — because that has become most of what they do, according to a town report produced as part of a new public records policy adopted last year.
    During the fiscal year that ended in September, Gulf Stream fielded 428 new requests for town records, nearly all of them from residents Martin O’Boyle and Chris O’Hare. Between them, the two men have filed dozens of lawsuits against the town and made several thousand requests for records since 2013.
    To comply with the requests, Kelly Avery, a full-time employee, worked 1,742 hours last year, roughly 95 percent of the time she put in. Carol Mahoney, a temporary worker the town hired to handle requests from O’Boyle and O’Hare, worked 2,080 hours.
    “Out of an office of five employees,” said Mayor Scott Morgan, “two devoted almost all their time to public records requests.”
    All told, counting work done also by the Town Clerk Rita Taylor, accountant Rebecca Tew, Police Chief Garrett Ward and Town Manager William Thrasher, Gulf Stream devoted 4,913 hours — roughly the equivalent of 2.5 full-time positions — to records requests.
    “Appalling,” said Vice Mayor Robert Ganger.
     The report doesn’t capture all the stress on the staff, officials say, or extra time on the job. Taylor, who is not an hourly employee, has been working seven days a week for the last two years.
    O’Boyle and O’Hare have 40 suits pending against the town alleging noncompliance with their records requests, besides at least nine more cases over other matters. The two have complained that officials have violated the state’s Sunshine Law by withholding information, failing to comply promptly or overcharging for copying documents.
    “The town has acted lawfully in all of the cases,” Morgan said in a recent letter to all residents. “However, under current Florida public records law, we cannot collect reasonable legal fees from the plaintiffs, even when we win. Thus, we must win these cases — just to put an end to them. Paying money to these litigants only validates their outrageous behavior and encourages them and others to pursue similar methods of public records abuse.”
    On Oct. 8, lawyers for the town filed an appeal of their RICO class action against O’Boyle and O’Hare that alleges the two conspired to use public records requests to extort money from municipalities and businesses across the state. In June, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra threw out the suit, ruling that the complaint did not meet legal requirements for action under the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act.
    O’Boyle told the commission in September that the $1 million the town is budgeting for legal fees is “absurd, outrageous, beyond the pale.” He said he wanted to negotiate an end to the cases, and proposed forming a panel made up of town officials and residents to broker a deal.
    “The way we resolve it is we slug it out, somebody dies, somebody goes broke, or we sit down and negotiate a settlement,” O’Boyle said.
    O’Hare told commissioners the RICO suit is hurting his business — Pineapple Grove Designs, which makes cast stone architectural art. He said it will cost the town millions more in legal fees unless officials admit their mistakes and negotiate.
    “Every time you make a mistake that affects me, I’m going to go to a judge and adjudicate it,” O’Hare said.
    Morgan said the men should put their settlement proposals in writing and give them to the town’s lawyers. He said the town is open to negotiation.
    “The ball is in the litigants’ court,” Morgan said. “I have stated numerous times that if the litigants will discontinue their lawsuits, I will recommend discontinuing our RICO action.”

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Comments

  • Mayor Morgan’s RICO action is a mean spirited attempt to chill public speech. He and the rest of the Town administration want to operate in secret and play fast and loose with the law. Morgan has told me many times that he will dismiss his RICO lawsuit against me only if I dismiss ALL my legitimate complaints against the Town. His take it or leave it attitude is not a good faith negotiation.

    Mayor Morgan and his attorneys keep singing the same tired old song - poor little Gulf Stream can’t be expected to comply with the State Constitution and Florida Statutes; poor little Gulf Stream doesn’t have the money to hire people to respond to all these record requests; poor little Gulf Stream must make the elderly Ms. Taylor work seven days a week to find public records; poor little Gulf Stream shouldn’t have to answer any questions about police coming into private homes without cause and the manager’s selective enforcement policies and special treatment for preferred residents and how much they are spending on attorneys and why they never obtain competitive bids and all the other things I ask about in my record requests.

    This is all propaganda designed to distract from the real issue here.  The Town won’t admit when it is wrong. The Town would rather tax and tax residents to spend public money on attorneys to forestall the inevitable. Sooner or later a Judge will finally get to rule on the Town’s behavior.  Perhaps then the Mayor will sing his swan song and make room for a new administration that puts its resident’s concerns above its leader’s ego.

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