The Cost of Revenge: City of Satellite Beach Tax Dollar Controversy


SATELLITE BEACH, FL., At first, the City had organized a public "workshop," but it was suddenly canceled just a few hours before it was supposed to start. The people who had come to City Hall and were interested in attending were told by the police officers that it was now going to be a "private meeting." The elected officials Frank Catino, Mark Brimer, and Mindy Gibson can be seen in photos and videos taken on September 17, 2018, the day they privately discussed concerns about water contamination and a possible group of cancer cases. 

The people not allowed to attend the meeting tried various approaches to hold the council members accountable, but they encountered obstacles. The police declined to accept any reports, and later, it came to light that the chief instructed them not to collect statements. Florida State Attorney Phil Archer refused to investigate the incident, and when the residents filed ethical complaints, they were not accepted and returned to them.

Furthermore, Jeff Dubitsky, a resident of Satellite Beach and a father of five, endured severe harassment. He received an intimidating bundle of papers in his mailbox containing unreasonable demands, including the disclosure of health information from his organization, which was gathering feedback from the public. Elected official Mindy Gibson was discovered to have had extensive communication with the harasser, who even suggested using automated programs to financially harm Dubitsky's nonprofit organization, Fight for Zero. Public records revealed that the City of Satellite Beach utilized taxpayers' money to print this troubling packet. 

Emails also indicate that officials in Satellite Beach attempted to bypass the sunshine law in September 2018 by altering their attendance. This deceitful strategy undermines people's right to access information, be informed, and report freely on news without interference from the government. 

PFAS chemicals were discovered to be utilized at the military facility located near the city, which led to their presence being detected in the underground water. The open meetings law states that the public should have had the chance to participate in the meeting addressing PFAS pollution. This would have been the fair and lawful approach to treating taxpayers.

Those denied access to the meeting went to the legal system and initiated a lawsuit, accusing a violation of the sunshine law designed to ensure transparency. Despite having to endure a lengthy 18-month wait, the case was eventually dismissed by Judge George T. Paulk from the Eighteenth Circuit Court, consequently preventing the individuals who initiated the lawsuit from presenting their evidence or calling witnesses to testify in court.

The plaintiffs challenged the ruling made by the court, but the higher court supported Judge Paulk's decision to dismiss the case. The higher court did not provide a justification for its ruling, but it did acknowledge that the lawsuit was legitimate and not filed with malicious intent. Moreover, the higher court rejected the City's plea for reimbursement of attorneys' fees and expenses, which were filed on March 8, 2022.

The city persisted in pursuing the victims whose rights were violated, even though they were not awarded compensation, and instead used taxpayer funds to appeal to the lower court, accompanied by the City Attorney and additional council, in order to cover their legal costs. Nonetheless, Judge Paulk denied the city's plea for attorney fees once again on October 2, 2023.

Even though the City of Satellite Beach did not receive attorney fees in two rulings and the City attorney had reservations about challenging the decisions of two judges, the council still chose to pursue another appeal on October 25, 2023.

In recent years, the Florida Legislature has passed multiple bills that have restricted the impact of the Sunshine Law or made it more difficult for the general public to enforce it. For example, in 2016, a bill was approved that exempted certain types of meetings from the Sunshine Law, such as gatherings of the governor's cabinet and state agency meetings regarding legal issues. In 2021, another bill was passed requiring a higher burden of proof and requesting plaintiffs to pay a bond, which makes it more challenging for the public to take legal action to ensure the Sunshine Law is upheld.

Here are some specific examples of how the Florida government has gone after the Sunshine Law in recent years: 
  • In 2019, the governor's office tried to prevent the public from attending a meeting of the governor's cabinet by closing the doors to the meeting room and refusing to allow members of the press to enter.
  • In 2020, the state legislature passed a bill that made it more difficult for the public to sue to enforce the Sunshine Law.
  • In 2021, the state legislature passed a bill that exempted certain types of meetings from the Sunshine Law, including meetings of the governor's cabinet and meetings of state agencies to discuss litigation.
  • In 2022, the state legislature passed a bill that made it more difficult for the public to access public records by requiring public agencies to charge higher fees for copying records.

Many people are concerned about how the City of Satellite Beach is handling its finances. They are worried about the steep increase in taxes and disagree with the decision to use taxpayer money on unnecessary legal battles like this one, especially since the violation was clearly captured on camera and the council members were being secretive. 

During the October City Council meeting, it was mentioned that this legal action is being pursued to set an example and discourage others from suing the city. A number of concerns were raised at the meeting. The council acknowledged that a considerable amount of funds had been allocated to this specific case. However, the residents argue that the problem arises from the exorbitant fees imposed by their attorneys. The residents in the area are also wondering if their taxes are paying for the entire cost of hiring lawyers for the three individuals involved in the violation and are not entitled to use the funds from the City. Finally, the only council member involved in the legal case, Mindy Gibson, made a decision on this issue, which residents argue is a clear conflict of interest.

This has sparked a public discussion about the City's motives and why they insist on pursuing these fees, which will ultimately end up costing taxpayers more money in the long run.

The Advocates Voice

An online publication launched to elevate the voices of advocates throughout the United States.

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