Voters hope that the people they elect are of good character; that they can trust those officials to do what is right which is the point of representative government. One of the responsibilities of a Palmetto Bay council member is to sit and judge zoning applications. It is a very serious process as the applications may impact the residents, as well as for the applicants, who may or may not be residents. Each side is entitled by law to a fair and unbiased proceeding. Those who disagree with those decisions can appeal the decisions to the courts.
Palmer Trinity, which has pursued the village’s most contentious application to date, has raised serious issues regarding the conduct of various council members in both an appeal and a law suit, Case Number 08-28977. The representatives of Palmer contend that they did not get a fair hearing, that the decisions were made in advance by a few insiders who may have improperly communicated in private with certain members of the village council outside the public hearings.
Palmer has been trying to obtain communications between Joan Lindsey and the Palmetto Bay Council that relates to Palmer’s zoning application. This important to Palmer in trying to rule out whether the decision of the Village Council was the result of any improper communications involving the Palmetto Bay council members. Council members are required to disclose any communications that were held prior to each hearing. Disclosures are important in advising what interests a person may have. (So, in the interests of full disclosure , it is important for me to continue to disclosure that my two sons attend Palmer.)
Palmer has been seeking documentation of any such communications from Joan Lindsey since 2008. In the opinion of Palmer, the responses have been less than complete, so they filed a motion to compel an amended response; this means additional information was provided that wasn’t voluntarily produced the first time. Palmer yet again determined that it had evidence such documents existed, yet Ms. Lindsey again failed to provide the sought documents.
Palmer took the deposition of Joan Lindsey in 2010 and it was interesting as Ms. Lindsey stated under oath that she only provided Palmer with the e-mails she had saved by printing them from her computer before permanently deleting them. The missing e-mails could have been the evidence that Palmer was seeking to prove its case, or the evidence that proved no misconduct occurred. The allegation, by Palmer, is that Ms. Lindsey destroyed key evidence, evidence that she was under a duty to keep.
Palmer then was forced to take a drastic step, going to the only source available: Ms. Lindsey’s computer hard drive. Ms. Lindsey vigorously fought to prevent Palmer from access to this hard drive. The Court rejected her objections, ordering the inspection of her computer hard drive. Palmer and Lindsey finally agreed to the specific forensic data specialist who would perform the inspection. Limits were placed on what the expert could look for, how that information would be kept and the time period for which the information could be sought.
What was on the hard drive that could be so damaging? The Court order should have settled the issue, but weeks after all the hard fought court hearings and after significant attorney’s fees for all, including the Palmetto Bay taxpayers, Lindsey announced that the hard drive was “trashed” and disposed of. The hard drive seemingly and just as abruptly disappeared in less time than it takes for a stack of newspapers to vanish into thin air. An opportunity to resolve the issues appears lost forever.
Palmer has now filed a drastic motion for sanctions, calling “enough is enough” and pressing for sanctions against Joan Lindsey, and, ultimately, Palmetto Bay, for what Palmer calls in their motion “… flagrant discovery violations and intentional destruction of key evidence.” This motion seeks recovery of Palmer’s attorney’s fees and worse, entering a judgment in its favor not only against Joan Lindsey, but against Palmetto Bay, meaning the taxpayers.
This needless litigation costs everyone in the village, not just Palmer and Joan Lindsey. Palmer has alleged that Joan Lindsey has a duty to maintain evidence, especially after notice and request, as a participant and a named party to the ongoing lawsuit. Joan Lindsey has the same duty to properly maintain public records as an elected official. She stands accused of blowing a similar standard the first time, failing to preserve records she was under a duty to keep.
Everyone has the right to fight to keep their computer from review, but not to fight the search then to allege that the computer was trashed after all avenues of redress are gone. . Who would spend time resisting the examination of a computer that allegedly no longer existed? The answer from the start would have been that it was no longer available.
Is this past performance indicative of future behavior?
Joan Lindsey owes more to the residents of Palmetto Bay as their elected official. Let’s hope that official Palmetto Bay computer records don’t start disappearing when requested. Let’s hope that future zoning hearings will not require equally extensive, expensive and potentially damaging law suits against Palmetto Bay where the applications do not meet with Ms. Lindsey’s approval. And now that she is elected, let’s hope that the court can efficiently resolve this claim so that all interested parties, especially the taxpayers of Palmetto Bay, can move on with their lives.
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