INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – In an intense and what turned out to be a successful campaign to gain a seat on the Indian Rocks Beach City Commission, Jose Coppen developed the technique of sending out newsy e-mails to inform voters on his positions.
He has continued this information pipeline, sending to a select list of addressees a rundown on what has occurred at commission meetings.
Now comes the good part – government and its officiousness steps in.
It appears Deanne O’Reilly, IRB’s city clerk, called Coppen on April 11 advising him that Andy Salzman, the city lawyer, had requested that all memos Coppen writes following a commission meeting go to the clerk for distribution.
Coppen’s reaction triggered a response from Al Grieshaber, the city manager, who wrote Coppen in very lawyer-like fashion spelling out the requirements of the Sunshine Law.
Grieshaber’s letter seems to determine that Coppen’s missives are public record but he, Grieshaber, said to be a lawyer himself, overlooks the key language of the portion of the law he cites and this key language is inapplicable in the Coppen situation.
They key language is that communications from one commission member to another qualifies as public record and must be handled as such.
The fact is, no fellow member of the commission is on Coppen’s addressee list.
Grieshaber follows his analysis of public record material with a rule of the commission which says that a member of the commission will not represent his or her own private position as a position of the entire commission in any outgoing correspondence.
Again, inapplicable, Coppen says, because no fellow commission members are on his addressee list and further, he has not stated any positions yet in his rundown on commission meetings.
Coppen at the same time is continuing to defend himself in a duel with Ed Piniero, a fellow commission member, over matters that go back to both men’s time on the Planning and Zoning Board.
Piniero filed a complaint against Coppen, the gist of which seems to be that Coppen violated the Sunshine Law by mentioning to Piniero that he had a desire to be chairman of the board, a position that Piniero himself was reportedly eager to have.
Coppen wound up in the job.
Coppen then reported to the then members of the commission (Mayor Bill Ockunzzi and Commissioners Jim Palamara, Jeremiah Carmody, Jean Scott and R.B. Johnson) that Piniero had edited minutes of the P&Z Board in an unauthorized manner.
Coppen said that Piniero, “where it suited his personal interests, requested the typist (in the clerk’s office) to re-word, include or delete various parts of the minutes.”
It is pretty well established that minutes of meetings, while not verbatim, are sacrosanct until brought back before its originating board for approval or change in a public meeting.
Coppen’s October 11 letter to the mayor and commissioners added that the city clerk said that Piniero “frequently asked to review the tapes” and made “recommendations on what was to be left in, deleted for re-worded.”
“As chairperson of the (board) it is my duty to request that this information be entered into the official record as any controversy over any (board) decision would be compromised if it were thought that the tapes or the minutes have been manipulated in any way.”
Coppen says he plans to continue his information e-mails to the residents of Indian Rocks Beach.
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