“See the words ‘out of town’,” Oldsmar Mayor Dan Saracki added when texting an image of a presentation slide to Oldsmar resident David McDonald in October 2022. Saracki was attending training mandated by Florida Statutes that all elected officials attending training every year on Florida’s Open Meetings Law, other transparency matters, and the Florida Ethics Law.
In response to a public records request that former Oldsmar Mayor Eric Seidel made of the city and Saracki last January, Saracki produced the text — but not the image. But then the text with the image appeared in during a deposition in another lawsuit, one which McDonald filed in March, 2022. McDonald sued the city and all who were city council members in 2021. All, that is, except Saracki. Seidel was one of those sued by McDonald.
McDonald’s lawsuit alleges that the city violated the Florida Open Meetings Law (Florida Statute §286.11) by holding a public meeting outside of the city limits in May 2021 at which the council “resolved issues” about the Downtown Development Plan. McDonald also alleges that a meeting held in the city in December of 2021 to take a decision on an increased development density ordinance was held in a room too small to accommodate the 150 people who wanted to attend. He alleges that the facts and circumstances effectively denied McDonald and others their Florida Constitutional right to attend that public meeting.
If McDonald prevails, then all decisions taken at those two city meetings are void. That means the current city council would have to hold meetings, take public comment and make decisions all over again on these thorny topics.
Seidel’s lawsuit against Saracki says that by sending such texts “Mayor Saracki has been providing Mr. McDonald advice and strategy for Mr. McDonald’s lawsuit against the City while sitting as the City’s Mayor.” That is a serious charge and the heart of that lawsuit. If true, it would be a violation of Saracki’s duties to the city.
“The purpose of last week’s hearing was to hear Saracki’s motion to dismiss our lawsuit and some other matters they wanted to be heard on,” Seidel told The Guardian. He was referring to a hearing that was held last Wednesday in his lawsuit against Saracki.
“I did not attend the hearing, I’m waiting for the transcript,” Seidel said when asked about specifics of the hearing. “However, the judge ruled that the text in question is a public record and not a private communication.”
It is too early to tell which way either lawsuit will go. Sometimes, judges let lawsuits continue even if they think that they should dismiss the lawsuit. They do that in order to allow litigants every opportunity to be fully heard, and not give them grounds for appeal.
Saracki was not immediately available for comment.
Are disagreements of the future of downtown Oldsmar the real reason for these lawsuits?
As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.