Destin sued over public records

Tom McLaughlin

DESTIN — A lawsuit filed against the city alleges officials violated the state’s Sunshine Law by failing to produce text messages between city staff and elected officials.

Attorneys representing Pointe Mezzanine LLC, a business that through an affiliate owns Holiday Isle’s Pointe Beach & Yacht Club condominiums, state in an Oct. 7 court filing that on May 30 their client had requested multiple public records from the city of Destin, including “internal communications.”

“Plaintiff is aware that certain city council members and staff use text messaging in connection with matters requested in the public records request,” the lawsuit states.

Such communication would be considered public records under section 119 of Florida Statutes.

The initial request, which called for documents pertaining to the original condominium project, the recently proposed addition of docking facilities and a right-of-way across the condominium property to Norriego Point, took more than a month to fulfill, the lawsuit states.

“Noticeably absent from the production were any text messages,” the lawsuit states.

It also alleges city officials produced “numerous records” that had not been requested in an effort to obscure the pertinent records actually provided.

Pointe Mezzanine LLC followed up its initial request for records with a second, dated Aug. 26. This one, the suit said, specifically requested social media messaging and posts regarding the topics for which information was originally sought.

In September, an additional notice was sent to the city from attorneys for Pointe Mezzanine LLC, the lawsuit said. It offered ”search terms to assist the city’s efforts to respond“ to the August request.

Four months later, the request has not been fulfilled, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit calls upon Circuit Court Judge William Stone to order the requested records be produced. It also seeks an expedited hearing of the case and for the city to pay fines and attorneys fees for violating Florida public records law.

Attorneys for Hopping Green & Sams, the law firm suing on behalf of Point Mezzanine LLC, did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.

In a separate document filed Wednesday, attorneys for Pointe Mezzanine LLC further requested that their client be allowed to inspect all electronic devices that might contain text messages or other communication sought through the original public records request.

The city filed two documents of its own Wednesday.

In one, its attorneys confirm that no text messages were furnished in complying with the condominium owner’s request for public records but denies any wrongdoing.

The second calls for a case management conference to establish time frames and deadlines to move the legal process forward.

On the advice of counsel, officials declined comment on the pending lawsuit.