BELLEAIR BEACH - A lawsuit filed by the Clearwater Gazette against Mike Kelly as mayor of Belleair Beach asserting violation of First Amendment rights has been settled with the final act of an official apology by the city to the newspaper.
In settling the case, first filed in August, 2003, Judge James Case of the Pinellas Circuit Court ordered the city to pay $3,000 in costs as part of the $25,500 settlement, as well as make a public apology to the Gazette.
The apology was made by a letter addressed to the Gazette publisher, Charles J. Pollick, from Mayor Rudy Davis on behalf of the City Council and the executive staff of the city of Belleair Beach. In the letter, read at Monday nightís City Council meeting, Davis apologized for the wrongful past actions of city employees.
Davis, who was not in office at the time the suit was filed, read from the letter, "Such action on the part of any city employee or official is not in keeping with the policy or custom of this city government regarding the First Amendment rights of any person or entity to freely express journalistic or editorial commentary about important issues."
The letter also said, "It is unfortunate that it became necessary for the Clearwater Gazette to resort to litigation against the city and two city employees in order to protect its constitutionally protected rights. We are pleased that we could settle the lawsuit to everyoneís satisfaction."
In July 2003, one or more city staff members prevented the distribution of the weekly paper by throwing copies delivered to city hall away. Apparently, city staff members were angered by an article not favorable to then mayor, Mike Kelly and his assistant.
At that time, a Gazette reporter, Leo Coughlin, had been reporting information on the city's budget expenditures and other news that was being generated in the city government. The suit was filed in August, 2003, after it was revealed that copies of the paper, which is delivered to the City Hall each week, were thrown away, depriving the public of access at that location.
In a response to the letter and public apology, Pollick said, "It was unfortunate that we had to take this action. Itís now resolved and I donít think this will happen again."
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