Outburst in Commissioners Chambers
John Lundin accuses commissioners of breaking Sunshine ...
COLLIER COUNTY — A Naples man has dropped his lawsuit against the Collier County Commission which argued a Sunshine Law violation occurred when two commissioners traveled to Maine last summer to tour Jackson Laboratory.
The lawsuit was filed by John Lundin, who said the commission violated the public meetings law when it allowed Commissioners Donna Fiala and Jim Coletta to make the two-day trip last July for a “fact finding tour.” The lawsuit said the board knew they would be violating the law when they approved the two commissioners’ trips in advance last June.
Lundin’s lawyer, Steve Carta, of Fort Myers, argued the trip constituted a meeting of the board and therefore required a public notice and minutes. Carta said there had been similar cases where the courts ruled fact-finding trips of public officials were violations of the law. He cited a 2008 decision by the Fifth District Court of Appeal when members of the Seminole School Board took a bus trip for school rezoning purposes.
Lundin said in an e-mail that the penalty, or “cure,” for the violation is for board decisions regarding Jackson to be declared void, but that is no longer applicable since the project has been halted.
“I do not want to cost the county any more taxpayer funds for litigation,” he said in an e-mail. “I filed the lawsuit because of the egregious attempt by Commissioners Coyle, Coletta and Fiala to raise taxes $120 million for Jackson Labs.”
Lundin said he reserves the right to refile the lawsuit if the Jackson project were ever to be reconsidered for Collier.
At the same time, Lundin said he plans to petition the board to pay for his legal fees for the lawsuit “because I performed a civic duty in the public interest exposing the Sunshine Law violation.”
County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow said he has not heard of anyone petitioning the county in this manner to try and recover legal expenses.
“It is my belief that the suit was completely baseless and politically motivated,” Klatzkow said.
Reached Monday, Lundin said he gets billed monthly for the legal fees for the suit and has been billed about $8,500 so far and expects a final tab of under $10,000. He said he will first research to see if he can petition the county to recover his costs. He was told by Carta that the county could try and go after him for the county’s costs for responding to the lawsuit.
Lundin said shortly after he filed the lawsuit last fall he tried to get Jackson Lab opponents to help him with, including Arthrex but the medical manufacturing device company declined. Arthrex filed its own lawsuit against the county to block the project without a voter referendum.
The Jackson project became divisive in the community where opponents said Jackson’s business plan for job creation was weak; others were angered the board would not let voters decide if they wanted the project and the $130 million local price tag, which would have been matched by the state.
Supporters said the 244 jobs that Jackson pledged to create in 10 years was a much needed start to diversify the economy to include the life sciences.
The project came to an end locally when Jackson officials withdrew their application to the state in January in order to retool it to better meet Gov. Rick Scott’s economic vision for the state. Shortly thereafter, Jackson acknowledged pursuing sites in Sarasota and Tampa. Barron Collier Cos. also withdrew its offer to donate 50 acres in Ave Maria for the lab.
Connect with health-care reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman
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Reporting from Bar Harbor, Maine: