Education

Judge delays decision on security contract lawsuit against Manatee County School District

BRADENTON -- It will likely be several more weeks before a judge decides whether to dismiss a lawsuit Sarasota Security Patrol filed against the Manatee County School District.

After hearing arguments Thursday, Circuit Judge John Lakin said: "I'll do my own homework and make a ruling." Lawyers for the school district want the lawsuit dismissed, saying there can be no breach since there was no contract between the school district and Sarasota Security Patrol, which was hired by the district in September to provide security officers for elementary schools. District lawyers said the request for proposal, found invalid because of Sunshine Law violations, served as an agreement between the two entities.

"If you fail to make decisions in the sunshine, your decisions are invalid," said Blalock Walters attorney Fred Moore, representing the district.

Superintendent Rick Mills canceled Sarasota Security Patrol's services after the nonprofit Citizens for Sunshine filed a lawsuit against the district for violating the Sunshine Law by employing the business.

An evaluation committee set up by the district to rank companies did not meet publicly and did not keep minutes of its meeting. The Manatee County School Board later acted upon the evaluation committee recommendation.

David Montgomery, representing Sarasota Security Patrol, said the district could have pursued other avenues to cure the Sunshine violation instead of canceling the contract.

Montgomery filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sarasota Security Patrol in November, claiming the superintendent didn't have the power to cancel the contract under the law or the terms of the contract, and the district owed the company money.

Montgomery has since dropped the third count, saying the district has paid the company in full.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.

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