Last week, we reported on city code violations involving unfair campaign practices by three of the five Dunedin city commissioners. DunedinReporter.Com (DR) had asked city attorney Tom Trask how the city planned to adjudicate the alleged code violations. “I am working on that process right now,” Trask wrote DR in an e-mail on December 7th.
Trask never proposed an adjudication process and instead issued a legal opinion memo which rescued the commissioners from their city code violations. Trask said in his memo that he “believes” that the campaign contribution restrictions in the city ordinance in question are “preempted [by state law], if not unconstitutional, and that it should be repealed from the [city] code.”
Call it “Repeal & Save Face” – to coin a phrase.
In his memo, Trask did not say what portions of the local law are unconstitutional, or why. He also did not explain why the entire city law on unfair campaign practices should be repealed rather than just the section dealing with partisan campaign contributions. Allegations have been made that other portions of that law have been violated by current city commissioners.
Trask wrote “it would not be appropriate to pursue enforcement of” the Dunedin city ordinance in question (26-202) and that it “should be repealed from the code.” All of it, not just the one portion dealing with campaign contributions. “It is my intention to bring this matter to the attention of the Ordinance Review Committee [ORC]for their review and recommendation,” Trask wrote.
“It is the duty of the Ordinance Review Committee,” Trask wrote DR “to review the entire Code of Ordinances” [our emphasis on the word “entire”]. Despite this duty, the ORC never found this local law enforceable during all the years it has been on the books.
Trask based his legal reasoning on a 44-year old Florida Attorney general opinion (AGO 74-263). Trask said that the “opinion was just recently discovered by my office.” However, that opinion has been available on the Florida Attorney General’s website’s and its searchable legal opinion database for 14 years.
The Florida Attorney General opinion Trask relied on deals only with campaign contributions, not the other matters the city’s ordinance deals with. It is unclear from Trask’s written opinion why he thinks the entire city ordinance should be thrown out, this only after his bosses violated it.
DR asked Trask who requested that he perform his legal analysis. “No one,” Trask responded via e-mail.
“Former city attorney John Hubbard told me to not accept any campaign contributions from partisan groups,” said former city commissioner Dave Carson. “Why would he have told just me?” Carson served on the city commission from 2008 to 2012. Current mayor Bujalski, one of the accused, also served during those years.
DR has found that Bujalski also accepted two partisan contributions from Democrat organizations in 2014. This is in addition to the three partisan contributions from Democrat group she accepted in 2016 that we previously reported on.
That brings Bujalski’s known partisan contribution total to $1,750.
Bujalski has not responded to repeated inquiries from DR on this matter. Among other things, we asked if she intends to repay the partisan contributions she received, like commissioner Jeff Gow has promised to repay his. We received no answer. Bujalski also did not answer whether she knew about the city code in question during her 2014 campaign.
We wrote all members of the Dunedin city commission and asked:
1. City elections remain “nonpartisan” under Dunedin city code 26-201. Trask was silent on that section.
Given that elections remain nonpartisan, will you pledge to not accept contributions from partisan groups in future election?
2. Commissioner Gow has pledged to repay the partisan contributions he received, mayor Bujalski has not.
Should mayor Bujalski repay the $1,750 in partisan contributions (five separate contributions) she received during the 2014 and 2016 elections cycles?
3. Did you request that the city attorney provide a legal opinion on this matter? Either by asking him directly or through another person.
We gave the mayor and four commissioners two and a half days to respond. Only commissioner Maureen “Moe” Freaney responded.
Freaney, who has not accepted contributions from partisan groups, would not pledge to continue to do so. “I will follow all applicable laws and ordinances as appropriate,” Freaney wrote.
Freaney would also not call on fellow Democrat Julie Bujalski to return the $1,750 in partisan contributions she has received. “I have no comment regarding any other member of the City Commission on this issue at this time,” Freaney wrote.
As always: DR reports, and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to learn when we publish new articles.