By Dan Moffett

    In waging their legal wars against the town of Gulf Stream, residents Chris O’Hare and Martin O’Boyle have used Florida’s public records laws hundreds of times in the last 18 months to challenge how their community is governed.
    As of mid-August, the town had responded to 1,252 public record requests filed in roughly equal numbers by O’Hare and O’Boyle, according to Town Clerk Rita Taylor.
    The requests touch most every imaginable tangent of the disputes O’Hare and O’Boyle have had with the town: fights over the architecture of home entrances and roofs, election rules, Americans With Disabilities Act compliance, parking regulation, constitutional protections and general governmental procedures.
    The two have sought documents, emails, phone texts, receipts, expense vouchers, transcripts and recordings. Between them, O’Hare and O’Boyle have filed dozens of suits and complaints against the town in the circuit and federal courts during the last two years.
    Taylor, 83, said she has been working seven days a week since last year and her assistant works Saturday mornings.
The town also has added a full-time temporary office worker, solely to help satisfy the requests.
    “Even with the extra temporary worker,” Taylor said, “a lot of our other work is undone because we’re working on public records.”
    Since mid-2013, Taylor says the clerk’s office has logged 4,650 hours handling the public records requests from O’Hare and O’Boyle. She says the office currently is logging about 145 hours per week, or 72 percent of its total work time, dealing with the requests.
    Gulf Stream spent about $360,000 in legal fees during the last fiscal year to fight the lawsuits of O’Hare and O’Boyle, and the related clerical work at Town Hall has cost at least another $100,000, officials say.
    In recent months, the town has added a folder on its website just to keep track of public records requests and make them accessible to the public.
    O’Boyle and O’Hare accuse town officials of creating their own problems. O’Boyle blames the town for being unwilling to negotiate and choosing a “legal slugfest” over a settlement.
    “If you really want to get the legal fees under control,” O’Boyle told Mayor Scott Morgan during the July Town Commission meeting, “you have to really want to get the legal fees under control.”
    O’Hare has accused the town of violating the very public records laws it claims to be upholding.
    “If you tell your staff to follow the law,” O’Hare told town commissioners during the same meeting, “all this stuff would go away and go back to normal.”
    The town has installed a $3,500 video security system at Town Hall after an incident on July 24, when O’Boyle and two associates entered the clerk’s office and asked for records during a meeting of the architectural review board, officials said.
    The new system allows staff to use a video monitor to identify people at the door, talk to them through an intercom and then release the lock electronically — or not.
    In other business: The Aug. 8 Town Commission meeting was canceled because of a lack of a quorum. Commissioner Donna White was ill, and Morgan and Commissioner Joan Orthwein were on vacation.

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Comments

  • Let's all chip in and buy Bill Thrasher a nose hair clipper. Check out this video on YouTube "Gulf Stream Town Manager Bill Thrasher - A Snooty Guy"http://youtu.be/QOiOxGn_F28
  • Another distorted article. Really Mary and Jerry, can't you at least call me to get my side of this story before publishing the Town's propaganda.

    These numbers  just don't make sense. 1252 request in 18 months is only 2.3 record requests per day. And given that most of these requests are for a simple document, the Town's claim that they have spent an average of 3.7 hours responding to each request (4650 hours divided by 1252 equals 3.7 hrs per request) is ludicrous. This claim is especially unbelievable given that most responses by the Town consist of nothing more than a standardized form letter stating that the Town will respond when they get around to it. Add to this the fact that the Town has just flat out refused to respond to hundreds of my requests for records, any reasonable person can only conclude that at best the Town is guilty of exaggeration or worse, Town leaders are purposely covering up their unwillingness to comply with State law and using taxpayer money to fight these lawsuits in order to hide their violations.  

    The Town's new video security system is indicative of the "drawbridge" mentality of secrecy and elitism that permeates Town government. Without public records there would be no transparency and no public oversight.

    Town leaders have been given great power over the citizenry with only one condition. They MUST follow the law. When they break the law it is up to reporters and citizens to call them out on it. I am doing that as best I can. Apparently the Coastal Star has a different agenda.

    I do not know what Mr. O'Boyle's intent is or what goals he is trying to achieve. We are not "joined at the hip" as Mr. Morgan would have you believe. I do know that when I see an injustice, I am going to fight it.

    Regarding Ms. Taylor; 83 years old and forced to work 7 days a week? Shame on Gulf Stream. Any resident guilty of similar labor violations would deserve a visit from the EEOC AND Elder Services.

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