A Gulfport man is suing the city of Clearwater over a public meeting involving the city’s airpark.
Paul Gagliano, who has a storied history with Clearwater and the Clearwater Airpark, along with Pinellas resident Dennis McDermott, is suing Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, all members of City Council and Clearwater City Attorney David Margolis alleging they violated Florida’s Sunshine Law by scheduling a meeting over the holidays and obscuring notice language so interested parties may not understand what was being discussed.
“By being published in the week between the Christmas and New Year holidays, not many of the public would actually receive the notice,” the lawsuit reads.
Public notice for the hearing was given on December 28, 2022 for the meeting on Jan. 12, 2023. The notice meets requirements for public hearings under Florida state statute.
Florida’s open government laws do not provide a precise definition for “reasonable” notice required for public meetings, “but seven days is (the) accepted minimum,” according to a Sunshine Law explainer document. Officials provided more than a week’s notice for the Clearwater meeting in question.
At issue was a meeting in which City Council voted unanimously to tap new operators for the Clearwater Airpark. Council selected a joint proposal from FlyUSA and Paradise Ventures for an initial five-year lease through 2028, with a five-year renewal option.
Under the agreement, the new operators agreed to invest $2.4 million into the Airpark for capital improvements, including adding 40,000 square feet of corporate hanger space and locating FlyUSA’s corporate offices at the property.
But Gagliano and McDermott allege the city did not provide adequate opportunity for the public to learn of and respond to plans for the Airpark.
Though the lawsuit acknowledges the city “may have met the letter of the law,” they argue “the spirit of the Sunshine Law was dubiously avoided.”
The lawsuit quotes several case precedents and, rather oddly, James Madison.
The lawsuit further alleges “the city and its counsel, along with a private company seeking to lease the parcels of land in question, conspired to ‘sneak by’ a decision to convert a quiet airpark into a facility primarily dedicated to activities involving aircraft take-offs and landings.”
“Had this been conducted openly and fully under the spirt if the Sunshine Law, the public may well have had objections to the conversion of parklands into a facility bringing significant safety issues and noise pollution into their neighborhoods,” the plaintiffs wrote.
It’s not clear why the plaintiffs placed the words “sneak by” in quotations.
The lawsuit not only alleges “incompetence” in violating the Sunshine Law, it also claims “some or all of the defendants knowingly agreed and conspired to violate” it.
This isn’t the first time Gagliano has had issues with the Clearwater Airpark. In 2019, Gagliano had guns stolen from his hangar at the airpark, which led to his eviction from his hangar.
The former Clearwater Airpark operator, David King Sr., also sued Gagliano in 2019 for libel, claiming Gagliano was making false statements about him, including alleged criminal activity, which King denied. The lawsuit is still pending.
The latest lawsuit was filed Feb. 3.
February 8, 2023 at 9:05 am
Another awful piece of work by shill media. It cites some grammatically incorrect document claiming that seven days is the “accepted minimum” rather than looking at case law right here in this circuit that has allowed less than 24 hours notice for non-emergency meetings.
Big hint to the “staff” who wrote this POS: seven days is not the accepted minimum.
The it tries to do a hit job by saying that it’s “not clear why the plaintiffs placed the words “sneak by” in quotations.” It’s probably because it’s a figure of speech, but at least the attempted hit job makes it clear that Peter Schorsch is behind this “report.”
February 8, 2023 at 11:51 am
Neither Dennis McDermott or Paul Gagliano were contacted by the author of this article to provide background facts that led to this lawsuit. The links provided also do not support ‘facts’ alleged in the article. (But nice try, anonymous author)
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