Open records lawsuit filed against Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, Manatee County

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 25, 2013 

Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino

PROVIDED PHOTO

MANATEE -- A lawsuit has been filed against Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino and Manatee County alleging public records violations, according to court records.

The suit was filed earlier this month and requested declaratory and injunctive relief for what it claimed was a failure to comply with state open records laws, court documents said.

Plaintiff Michael Barfield last fall requested documents from DiSabatino seeking any electronic communication, including e-mails, text messages and social media messages from Aug. 1-Sept. 30, 2012, according to a copy of the complaint.

"Initially, the commissioner came to my attention as a result of a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners in which she and (former) Commissioner (Joe) McClash acknowledged having a meeting following an MPO meeting, and the concerns were that that unnoticed meeting was not transparent, and was outside the sunshine," Barfield explained Monday.

The MPO he referred to is the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization,

the two counties' trans-portation planning agency.

"I wanted to get an idea what was going on with the MPO, and Commissioner DiSabatino was unable to fulfill that request," Barfield said.

"And through a series of blunders, she ultimately indicated she was having computer issues, was the victim of some virus, and that the virus occurred within a day of my records request."

That aroused his suspicions, Barfield said, adding, "This was an e-mail on a private account the commissioner was using to conduct official business, it was something she shouldn't be doing to begin with."

Manatee County Attorney Mitchell "Mickey" Palmer said he is prepared to defend the county in connection with the case.

McClash said nothing he had ever seen DiSabatino do was in violation of the state's Sunshine Law, which requires notice to the public when officials are meeting.

"It almost looks like it's more or less somebody trying to make Robin look bad, or scare her off from running for office again," said McClash.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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