Vero Council ordered to stay mum on Heady lawsuit

VERO BEACH — At the advice new legal counsel Randy Brennan, the Vero Beach City Council and city staff will not be discussing the issues contained in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court against the city by Councilman Brian Heady.Brennan, whose Vero firm of Brennan & Kretschmer was hired for $300 per hour to respond to the lawsuit filed on May 5, urged caution by the council when broaching any topics Heady presented in his pleading. “Very serious issues have been raised and I would not want the city to compromise its position by making inappropriate comments,” Brennan said. The city has 21 days from the date of service to file a response, and is expected to file a motion to dismiss the suit as frivolous. In addition to giving the city council his resume of 26 years of practice in both state and federal court and as a mediator, Brennan assured city officials that he would file a timely response and that the city had a “good defense.””This is not my first run around the courthouse,” Brennan said.Among the items Heady has asked the court to rule on are the enforceability of the 20-year, $2 billion contract with the Orlando Utilities Commission, custodial control of that contract and supposedly misleading statements regarding electric rates made by officials.The lawsuit questions the validity of comments made by City Manager Jim Gabbard to the Board of County Commissioners in August 2008. Additionally, the suit calls into question statements made by Gabbard in 2009 to the office of State Attorney Bruce Colton regarding the existence of changes to the OUC contract. Records state Gabbard told the investigator there were no unauthorized changes made to the 68-page contract. A closer look by the City Attorney’s office showed dozens of changes were made and not disclosed to then-Mayor Tom White, but the city characterized the changes as “minor” and serving only to “make the contract better and clearer.”Heady also alleges that his First Amendment rights have been limited by Mayor Kevin Sawnick and other members of the council to rein in his public comments. The city needed to outsource this to a private firm because City Attorney Charles found out from the Florida Bar that he would not be permitted to defend the city with staff since the legal staff would probably be called as witnesses.Councilman Tom White asked if the city would seek reimbursement of legal fees being funded by taxpayer dollars should the city prevail in the lawsuit and Brennan answered that type of action would be appropriate.Heady said the city could avoid the time, trouble and cost of a lawsuit if the council would delve into the electric issues and demand documentation to back up actions and statements.”We can make this whole thing easy and save the taxpayers a whole lot of money,” Heady said. “The city council can answer the questions and make this whole thing go away.”Despite recommendations by the attorney, Heady proceeded to bring up several of the issues in the lawsuit, in an attempt to bait his fellow council members into a discussion, which was quickly curtailed by Sawnick.”You shouldn’t have to file federal lawsuits to discuss the public business in the public eye,” Heady said.

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