BRADENTON -- The Manatee County School District was served with two lawsuits this week: one where an employee claims retaliation after being injured on the job. And yet another Sunshine lawsuit in which a former contractor claims the district is violating the public records law, according to staff attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum.
Chad Ritchie, head of Sarasota Security Patrol, claims the Manatee County School Board is violating state law by not making a public record available for inspection and it is relying on an exemption that doesn't apply. The records deal with emails and phone calls from board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner.
Ritchie claims a records request he made in September -- concerning phone records and emails sent by Miner -- has gone unanswered.
The school district hired Ritchie's company to provide security in its elementary schools. The contract was eventually canceled because the school district didn't follow proper protocol when opening and grading bids for the contract.
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Ritchie requested all the personal and work cell phone records and personal and work emails for Miner. He wanted the emails and phone calls Miner made to the media as well as to local attorneys and the board clerk.
Miner was against hiring private security guards, calling them "rent-a-cops" and advocating local law enforcement officers be brought in instead.
On Oct. 31, the final day security officers worked in the schools, Ritchie made another public records request asking for all work emails Miner sent to board member, Superintendent Rick Mills and the media between Oct. 13-31.
The lawsuit says the requests were acknowledged, but the district said Ritchie would have to pay a fee. When Ritchie attempted to pay for the request, he was told the records were not ready and he would be called with a final amount when they were
"The plaintiff has received no further response to the that second request; has received none of the records requests in either request; and never received any information indicating that the Defendant made any reasonable efforts to obtain the public records which it claims are not in the Defendant's direct possession," the lawsuit states.
Ritchie wants an accelerated hearing, records from the school board and a judgment awarding costs and attorney fees.
Ritchie is represented by David Montgomery, a Bradenton-based lawyer. Montgomery said they've had many discussions with school board representatives about this issue, but to no avail.
"We really had no choice," he said.
Ritchie claims in an ongoing suit Mills didn't have the power to unilaterally cancel the contract and the district hasn't paid the company in full.
Laura McCoy, who filed suit Monday, is seeking $15,000 in damages after she says the school district ended her contract as a clinical nurse instructor at Manatee Technical Institute, since renamed Manatee Technical College, after McCoy was injured in the parking lot.
McCoy began working at Manatee Tech in January 2013. While in the parking lot March 17, 2014, McCoy fell and fractured her knee and sprained her wrists. She continued to work in a wheelchair, the lawsuits states.
The next day, the district's risk management office contacted McCoy and said her injury created a "negative history" for the district and the school, according to the suit.
In June, McCoy's contract was not renewed and she said she was not given a reason. The lawsuit claims McCoy was retaliated against for engaging in protected activity under the Florida Worker's Compensation Act.
McCoy is seeking a trial by jury, reinstatement to her position with full benefits and seniority rights and compensation for lost wages and emotional distress.
McCoy is represented by Donna Smith, a lawyer from the Tampa-based firm Wenzel Fenton Cabassa. Smith did not return a request for comment.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.