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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Feb. 6, 2004 14 years ago

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

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This week's items: Landlord sues city of Sarasota in federal court The Donald in Sarasota?Coldwell Commercial restructuringY'all are old!What's ahead in Tallahassee: No new taxes

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

Landlord sues city of Sarasota in federal court

The Sarasota law firm of Lancaster & Eure P.A. has filed a lawsuit against the city of Sarasota over its treatment of property owners in nuisance abatement cases.

The suit, which lists Alex Lancaster, one of the firm's partners, as one of the plaintiffs, names the city of Sarasota, the Sarasota Police Department, the city's law firm of Taylor Lawless & Singer P.A., attorney Mark Singer, attorney Jim Sigfried, the Sarasota Nuisance Abatement Board and Linda Holland as defendants.

Filed Jan. 26 in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Amy Sergent writes that her clients have been, among other things, deprived of "property and liberty interest without due process ... (faced) tortuous interference with a contractual relationship, malicious prosecution and ...selective prosecution in targeting minorities."

As GCBR reported Nov. 7-13, Sergent and Lancaster & Eure charge the city's nuisance abatement program is overly vague, applied to minority neighborhoods and is biased against landowners.

The Nuisance Abatement Board attempts to hold landowners responsible for the action of their tenants. In many instances, the police department has used confidential informants to engage in illegal activity as part of sting operations. After the third incident, usually a drug buy, the department has served a search warrant on the property in an attempt to prosecute the dealer.

Those three initial buys are then turned over to the city's Nuisance Abatement Board. That board in turn can levy fines or require that the property owner make changes to the property. Typically, the only evidence presented at the quasi-judicial hearing is the statement of an officer who worked with the informant.

According to the suit, "The defendants failed to give adequate notice to the ...landowners when illegal activity was taking place on the landowners' property." In addition, the city allegedly could collect and compile evidence for up to six months and is only required to give three days notice for a landowner to rebut the case.

Sergent also charges that city attorneys, who provide legal advice to the board, also act as persecutors in the quasi-judicial hearings. Further, the suit says, the city "forced the landlords to cancel their contractual obligations with the tenants lest (they) be subject to fines and sanctions."

Sergent also charges that the police used selected enforcement when pursuing nuisance abatement charges. The suits says that land owned by the city has never been cited for nuisance abatement although similar circumstances have likely occurred on its property.

In its most damning charge, the suits says the city has redlined minority-dominated areas for application of nuisance abatement. "Defendants are motivated by racial amicus in bringing about the evictions of minority tenants," Sergent writes, "as many were never criminally prosecuted and are therefore assumed to be innocent of the alleged offenses."

The Donald in Sarasota?

Before Irish developer Paddy Kelly decided to become the lead partner in the redevelopment of the Quay, Coffee Talk has learned that the Quay's previous owners - Rene Gareau and his partners in Canada - had had discussions with Donald Trump.

Out of this came discussions about constructing a 45-story building on the Quay site.

Now that would have been fun - watching the Donald go toe to toe with the Sarasota City Commission.

Can you imagine?

Coldwell Commercial restructuring

Even Sue Louis, president of Sarasota Bay Region for Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, has heard the rumors. For several days, sources had been telling GCBR that Coldwell Bank had shut down its central Sarasota commercial real estate department, following the exodus of several of the firm's commercial associates.

The rumors aren't true. "If anything, we are planning to make it bigger," says Louis. "We are in the process of restructuring and revamping the office. We are taking a new focus. We are planning to refocus on the type of commercial agents we have there and putting in place additional leadership."

Dan Page, Coldwell Banker's commercial director for Sarasota and Manatee counties, and five other Realtors from the commercial central office have left the company. Louis says an announcement of the new commercial division head should come later this week.

Y'all are old!

She said it: When state Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Sarasota, spoke at the annual meeting of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, she wanted to make reference to the fact the organization is more than a half-century old. When she couldn't remember exactly how many years, she stopped her speech and parenthetically quipped: "Wow, y'all are old!" (It's 52.)

What's ahead in Tallahassee: No new taxes

While Sen. Lisa Carlton addressed the builders at dinner, several hours earlier, Carlton's colleagues addressed the members of the Sarasota County Bar Association on what's ahead in the next legislative session. Sen. Mike Bennett summarized his view quickly: "I think it's going to be an easy session. The speaker (Johnnie Byrd) is running for the U.S. Senate. So he wants to get out of there. (Senate) President (Jim) King has a skiing reservation in May, and the governor wants to campaign for his brother. I think it's going to be easy."

As we all know, of course, the Legislature never makes anything easy. The usual budget fights will persist, but as Bennett says: Don't expect any tax increases. Speaker Byrd will not let that happen on his watch - especially while he's running for statewide office.

Do expect this: The Legislature is likely to pass resolutions to place on the November statewide ballot a second vote on the infamous mandate to limit classroom sizes, adopted by voters in 2000, and another vote on the bullet train. Gov. Bush is leading the push for re-votes on both of those amendments.

There will also be a lot of discussion about limiting constitutional amendment initiatives on the ballot. Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, has a good idea. He likes the Colorado system, where there's a two-year cooling off period. If an amendment is approved, it goes on the ballot again two years later so voters can make sure they don't have voter's remorse.

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