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Saxon gets flood grant if he drops city lawsuit
By AMY WIMMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000
MADEIRA BEACH -- To the dismay of Madeira Beach officials, the state will hand its federal grant dollars directly to former City Commissioner Tom Saxon, who had expected a $65,000 flood grant.
The prerequisite? Saxon must drop the lawsuit he filed against the city, Department of Community Affairs Secretary Steven Seibert wrote in a letter to Madeira Beach Mayor Tom DeCesare last week.
"I don't see any reason for us to continue (the lawsuit)," Saxon said. "I've talked to our attorney, and he's planning on making sure he gets with the city's attorney and DCA's attorney and doing whatever's necessary to resolve this."
The city and Saxon are disputing whether the former commissioner was privy to special knowledge that allowed him to win a flood grant.
City officials say they aren't ready to give up. First, they want to ensure that the recipients who hang in the balance receive the state money they were promised.
They also also hope to shed more light on how they believe Saxon used his city position improperly to receive the grant.
"If he drops this lawsuit, . . . he's afraid to go to court," said lawyer Ed Foreman, who is representing the city in the Saxon lawsuit. As of last week, he is working for Madeira Beach without pay.
"I decided I would donate this time because I feel he is wrong," Foreman said of Saxon.
Foreman would not detail the city's legal strategies, but he indicated that Madeira Beach will continue to fight Saxon, even if the DCA stands behind him.
"He's a bully who's afraid to go to court," Foreman said. A hearing before Judge Frank Quesada is scheduled for June 21.
Saxon applied for the flood grant program after another recipient dropped out, and Madeira Beach commissioners question whether he learned of the available slot only because he was a commissioner.
Saxon concedes that he is an aggressive person, but says his personality played no role in winning the grant.
"That's indicative of a successful business person," Saxon said. "If somebody's implying that I have a friendship or previous knowledge or inside information, that's all bogus."
In the flood grant program, the DCA distributes money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. When local recipients, who are approved by the city, complete repairs on their homes, they submit receipts and the DCA sends reimbursements to the city, which hands the money over to the grant recipient.
Foreman said the city of Madeira Beach did approve Saxon for the grant, but did so because the commission believed it could reconsider its endorsement later.
The city chose instead to place the money in a Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court account until its dispute with Saxon is resolved.
In his letter to the city, Seibert said the DCA will now withhold other grant payments intended for Madeira Beach and redirect those to Saxon until he has received the entire amount anticipated from the grant, plus interest. The agency put that amount at $73,303 as of early this month.
That means that none of the other grant recipients in Madeira Beach will receive their reimbursements until Saxon has been paid. Foreman said the city is exploring other options for paying them, including dipping into the city's own money until the Saxon dispute is resolved.
Last month Foreman said he would accept DCA correspondence on the issue only from the agency's head, Seibert. But even the letter to DeCesare from Seibert, written June 2, did not dissuade Foreman from forging ahead with plans to show how he believes Saxon acted improperly.
In the letter, Seibert said he was "sorry we find ourselves caught in this position, contrary to that taken by the city. We believe, however, we are bound by contract to reimburse the Saxons."
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