REDINGTON BEACH — Commissioners here sought the resignation of a member of a town board for what they said was a conflict of interest in her being part of a lawsuit against the town.
Shortly after the Sept. 4 commission meeting began, Commissioner Dave Will asked Wendy Fields, a first-term member of the Board of Adjustment, to resign from her position.
Will said Fields was among “a group of residents” who have sued the town to rescind its ordinance on “customary use” of the beach and to restrict public access to the beach.
“It is my opinion, it is not in the best interests of the town that this person vote on variances submitted by the very residents that will be affected by this lawsuit,” Will said before identifying Fields.
Commissioner Tom Dorgan agreed with Will, stating he considered it a “conflict of interest to serve on a board and sue the town at the same time.” Commissioners Tim Kornijtschuk and Fred Steiermann concurred.
Steiermann asked whether any ordinances addressed the matter, and Town Attorney Jay Daigneault responded that “continued membership on a board or committee is not a right and the commission … reserves the right to remove any member thereof when it determines in its sole discretion that doing so is in the town’s best interest.”
Fields, who was in the audience, said the call for her resignation was “somewhat of a surprise.”
“I think I’ve been very, very fair being on the board,” she said.
“If you’d like me to resign, I’d be more than happy to, but I felt like everything with my background, I’ve been more than fair and I’m not doing anything detrimental to the town and hopefully this lawsuit will be resolved.”
At Mayor Nick Simons’ request, she agree to put her resignation in writing.
Fields was serving a three-year term on the Board of Adjustment that was due to expire March 1.
Wendy and Harry Fields, along with five other owners of Gulf-side residences, filed the suit in June in state circuit court, charging that the town’s “customary use” ordinance constituted an “illegal taking” of their property.
The ordinance, passed in June 2018, declared that the public use of the dry sand beach in the town has been “ancient, exercised without interruption, peaceable and free from dispute.” However, the suit claims the ordinance made those assertions about customary use without any “judicial determination.”
Other plaintiffs in the legal action are Shawn Buending, Robert Dohmen, Thomas K. Brown, and Shawn and Dagmar Moore. It is the most recent filed against Redington Beach on the customary use issue. Similar allegations were made in a lawsuit by Pamela Greacen and Arthur Buser in October 2018.
Near the end of the meeting, resident Jackie Chapman chastised the commission for their action in dismissing Fields. Fields “came to the meeting not knowing what was going to happen. She had no chance to defend herself,” Chapman said.
“You say your attorney has advised you to do this, but I don’t think it was right and that’s all I’m saying,” Chapman added. “She had no chance. She was shocked. And it wasn’t the right way to do it.”
The commission also approved of changes Daigneault had made to proposed revisions in the town code dealing with loud noise, nuisance landscaping and vegetation and unsolicited distribution of printed and written materials. The initial ordinance had gone through “various iterations” after drawing a number of comments from residents, he said, and was sent back to first reading “out of an abundance of caution” to avoid adoption challenges.
At the commission’s request, he said the phrase “substantially obscures the view from the road” had been removed from the section on nuisance vegetation. Daigneault said he also had added a section to allow the town to abate nuisances and assess properties to recover those costs.
He added that the decibel levels listed in the ordinance for determining loud nuisance noise were consistent with levels used by other Pinellas County communities.
The attorney noted that Dan Autrey, publisher of Tampa Bay Newspapers, had expressed concern that language of the ordinance would prevent local distribution of the Beach Beacon. Daigneault said he had altered wording so it was not “explicitly prohibited” to throw material from a vehicle, but doesn’t positively approve of that method, either.
Simons asked him if language of the ordinance was “consistent with what you put in the North Redington Beach ordinance, that the Tampa Bay Newspapers, specifically the Beach Beacon, will continue to be delivered in North Redington Beach, it will continue to be delivered in Redington Beach. Nobody will lose their Beacon based on being delivered by the current method based on our ordinance. Am I correct?”
“Yes,” responded Daigneault.
In other business, the board accepted a proposal from Bruce McLaughlin Consulting Services to provide town planning services. McLaughlin currently provides those services as an employee of SAFEbuilt, which acts as the building department for Redington Beach. Company officials recently informed the commission that planning services provided by McLaughlin had not been included in the town’s existing contract.
McLaughlin’s agreement with the city calls for him to provide town planning services for up to 20 hours a week at a rate of $45 an hour. The contract with BMCS goes into effect Oct. 1.