On October 22, 2018, City Attorney Thomas Pepe called a meeting of the South Miami City Commission to meet out of the ‘sunshine.’
How do we know that he called it? Because at the beginning of the meeting that was held in the sunshine, Vice Mayor Bob Walsh said, “We’re here at the request of the City Attorney.”
After the City Clerk called the roll, Pepe said, “Yes. I asked to call this meeting to discuss the legal expenses in the case that you mentioned [Commission on Ethics case Cody versus Stoddard].”
The facts leading up to the October 22 meeting have been reported by this news- paper since February of this year. The Ethics Commission had lots to say about this case, when it said among other things… “Having found probable cause that Mayor Philip Stoddard violated the Citizens’ Bill of Rights when he refused, twice, to let a member of the public speak…” At that point, Stoddard could have admitted his guilt or he could fight it. Stoddard is choosing to fight.
In April, the City Commission initially approved paying for Stoddard’s legal fees. By the summer, the sentiment on the Commission had changed and the resolution saying the city would foot the bill was repealed.
Stoddard made a claim on the city’s insurance policy that requires the city to pay $75,000. Additionally, he wants to hire his own attorney and have the city and the insurance company pay for it, rather than the assigned lawyer that the insurance company would choose.
Stoddard’s attorney is Benedict Kuehne, a lawyer who has a positive reputation in the community. That being said, Kuehne is also expensive and probably charges way more than what the insurer’s approved counsel charges.
At the time this report was written, he hadn’t yet submitted his proposal, according to the City Manager Steve Alexander.
Based on sources, we reported that on Oct. 22 Alexander told the Commission that the city would be paying the $75,000 deductible. He wasn’t asking for its permission. He stated that it would be a fait accompli, and that the Commission would have no say over when Alexander drew the $75,000 from the city treasury.
At the Nov. 6 Commission meeting, Alexander was critical of the story we ran on the closed-door meeting. He told the commissioners, “What was written in the South Miami News was not accurate.” Alexander also demanded in an email that we retract the story. Community Newspapers posted his emailed message.
As things would have it, we attempted to get our hands on the transcript of that Oct. 22 meeting, but to no avail, as the city claims that it does not need to release it. However, we have a different opinion. Following the proposed no to our request, a public records lawsuit was filed on Nov. 2, demanding that the city issue the transcript.
We’ll see in the coming weeks when a Circuit Court judge takes the matter up quickly whether Thomas Pepe and Steve Alexander did the right thing.