Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward said his office is investigating whether a Sunshine violation occurred in the village of Islamorada regarding a separation agreement with former attorney Roget Bryan that was brought before the council on May 12.
Ward told the Keys Weekly on July 11 that his office initiated an investigation a week-and-a-half ago following a complaint. It all stems from the May council meeting that, at its sixth hour, heard Bryan publicly state his resignation; he became the village’s first in-house attorney in 2013. He said at the time that he had no appetite for the external political dynamics that involve attacks on his “name, character, reputation, integrity and most egregiously my family.”
Following Bryan’s statements, Mayor Pete Bacheler, Vice Mayor Henry Rosenthal and councilmen Mark Gregg and Buddy Pinder approved a “Tab X” that appeared on the agenda just before the May 12 meeting, entailing a separation agreement effective May 20. Councilman David Webb was absent from the meeting.
Council members didn’t delve into specific comments or questions regarding the agreement during the meeting. Rather, the dais extended its thanks and appreciation to Bryan.
The agreement includes 20 weeks of severance pay, unused sick and vacation leave, insurance benefits and retirement benefits, all of it totaling around $185,000. Bryan said during the May 12 meeting that he had the opportunity to speak with each council member on the agreement. He said that each council member also had the opportunity to speak with external counsel on the matter.
Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, enacted in 1967, provides right of access to governmental proceedings of public boards or commissions at the state and local levels. It includes such requirements as meetings of public boards or commissions be open to the public and reasonable notice of such meetings be given. It also forbids council members to discuss matters with each other outside a public meeting.
Per the agreement, Bryan and the village will refrain from making or publishing statements that are defamatory or disparaging against one another.Eileen Rodriguez, legal secretary, also left the village and received severance. The agreements raised some questions and concerns from the Islamorada Community Alliance.
“Is there something the taxpayers of Islamorada need to know about why this handsome severance package was offered to Mr. Bryan? What ‘external political dynamics’ caused this, and perhaps both May 20th departures,” the ICA states in its June newsletter.
Ward wouldn’t disclose exactly whom investigators talked to due to the fact it’s an ongoing investigation. As to the length of the investigation, Ward said “it depends how cooperative the witnesses are.”
The Keys Weekly reached out to Bacheler and Rosenthal for comment. Both declined to speak due to the ongoing investigation.