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    Process in hiring manager questioned

    Two Safety Harbor commissioners suggest the mayor and vice mayor discussed the appointment at a bar, possibly violating the Sunshine Law.

    By LEON M. TUCKER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 11, 2002


    SAFETY HARBOR -- Two Safety Harbor commissioners are questioning the recent appointment of the new city manager, saying they suspect the mayor and vice mayor improperly discussed the hire before the vote and outside the public eye.

    Although they have no specific proof, Commissioners Neil Brickfield and Robin Borland were struck by the speed with which the matter was handled. At Monday's meeting, Mayor Pam Corbino moved to appoint acting City Manager Wayne Logan to the postion permanently. Vice Mayor Nadine Nickeson quickly seconded it.

    "I thought it was odd -- the agenda item said we were discussing the selection process, but everybody seemed to have their speeches written to hire Mr. Logan," said Brickfield. "I felt like I was almost out of the loop. I wasn't ready for that."

    Less than an hour later, Corbino and Nickeson joined former Safety Harbor Commissioner Fran Barnhisel in a bar at the nearby Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. They said they talked about the mayor's upcoming birthday and their families.

    Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine law prohibits two or more elected or appointed officials from the same board to discuss official business without the public's knowledge.

    "I would not allow that," Corbino said.

    The mayor said there's no need for commissioners to meet illegally because they usually agree on the matters they vote upon.

    Still, Borland shares Brickfield's concern and said that even if public business is not discussed at private meetings, they simply look bad.

    "I would like to know if there are more intimate meetings going on and if issues are being discussed behind closed doors," she said. "If they are having drinks together, that's not right. That's not what government people should be doing and that's not what commissioners should be doing."

    Both the mayor and vice mayor deny wrongdoing and say they have never discussed city business in private -- including Logan's appointment, which passed 4-1. Brickfield cast the dissenting vote.

    "If someone is interested in violating the Sunshine Law, do you think they are going to do it in a public place?" Nickeson asked. "I value my integrity and my reputation -- that has always been very important to me."

    It is not illegal for city officials to meet or maintain personal relationships with each other -- as long as official city business is not discussed.

    "In reality, we know the Sunshine Law is violated every day," said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee. "We would hope our public officials would be conscientious and not put themselves in that postion, but we have to take them on a certain amount of faith."

    In October, the St. Petersburg Times published a similar story when it was discovered that three members of the St. Petersburg City Council had lunch together at the Atlanta Bread Company Bakery Cafe.

    Logan and Commissioner Keith Zayac said the mayor's motion did not surprise them. She made a similar one in December.

    "The mayor indicated her support before the first meeting in December when she made the motion then," Logan said. "I assure you there was nothing underhanded done relative to my appointment."

    Corbino and Nickeson also pointed out that they've seen Brickfield and Borland together at the spa's bar.

    "The only times I've ever met Robin Borland for drinks was at the Safety Harbor Spa and it was in a group," Brickfield said. "One time was for someone's birthday and the only other time I was in a bar with Robin Borland was the night she was sworn in."

    Brickfield continued: "I think people can look at it and judge for themselves. They have been very close friends and political allies for a long time and the spa has long been their after-meeting spot."

    City attorney Alan Zimmet, meanwhile, expressed little concern for the matter, saying nothing illegal had taken place.

    "They are not prevented from having drinks with one another," he said. "So I wouldn't have reason to advise them who to have drinks with.

    "My opinion is that it is not illegal and it is not a violation of the Sunshine Law nor any other state statute."

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