In both complaints, Stanczyk is sued as an individual and not in her capacity as a mayor.
“It is our belief that this is a frivolous lawsuit brought against Mayor Stanczyk simply to harass her, and we believe we will prevail,” said her attorney Phillip Sheehe.
Suit against vice mayor
A third lawsuit also involves a Palmetto Bay elected official. This time, Vice Mayor John DuBois has sued county environmental-protection officer John Ricisak and village resident Gary Pastorella for conspiring to ruin DuBois’ reputation and his 2012 election chances, according to the complaint. DuBois has said in the lawsuit that Ricisak lied on a citation he issued to DuBois and invaded his privacy, and that Pastorella spread information during the campaign season, including altered photos that suggest the vice mayor illegally cut mangroves on his 8-acre bay-front property.
In the same complaint, DuBois has also sued Palmetto Bay Checks the Record and the website’s owner for publishing a post that said he is being “prosecuted” for “committing environmental crimes.” DuBois does not name Stanczyk in his complaint, and he told the Herald he will not add her name to the lawsuit.
DuBois has also filed a lawsuit against a Palmetto Bay resident, Elizabeth Williams, charging that she stole his campaign signs during the 2012 election season.
And just like some of his fellow village leaders, DuBois has been on the defensive. In the fall of last year, the county sued him for illegally cutting mangroves on his 8-acre property.
Barry University political science professor Sean Foreman said that while it is common for opposing political factions to “throw mud at each other” during campaign season, the rivalries rarely escalate to lawsuits.
“It happens, but infrequently,” he told the Herald, adding that the litigation in Palmetto Bay could backfire at both the people filing the suits as well as at the community at large.
"Maybe for the vice mayor, he is better off letting the story go away because the more he fights it, the more it is in the news," said Foreman, regarding DuBois’ lawsuit.
The courthouse battles also “could result in uglier council meetings and unproductive city politics. It could devolve into more petty arguments between these factions that could stifle development in the city.”
Indeed, at a recent council meeting a relatively routine housekeeping decision was used to make a reference to the current polarization in the village. The council unanimously voted to pick a bronze sculpture for the Village Hall courtyard depicting pelicans and a mangrove.
“If we pick the second sculpture, do we need a permit from DERM for the mangrove?” said DuBois, making a reference to the county lawsuit filed against him alleging that he illegally cut mangroves without obtaining a permit from the Department of Environmental Resources Management. (The agency is now called Permitting, Environmental and Regulatory Affairs.)
“Vice Mayor, we are planting, not cutting,” Lindsay was quick to respond.
Like many Palmetto Bay residents, Andy Newman traces the division in the village back to a series of legal disputes between the village and Palmer Trinity School. Residents and council members have been divided over the size of the school’s planned expansion, its effect on neighbors, and the costs of litigation.
Newman, who lives near the school, said he will be affected by the expansion, including the increase of traffic. But, he added, at this point he wishes the council would move on from Palmer-related contention and function as a unit.
“It has been a hot potato for quite some time,” he said. “But it’s time to just come together and resolve the situation.”
Florida International University law professor George Knox said the contention in Palmetto Bay could be alleviated if elected officials as well as constituents have an informal conversation together – not at a council meeting or through community blogs.
“The idea is to have a heartfelt conversation, face-to-face. What is it that you are fighting against and why?” said Knox, a former Miami city attorney who teaches negotiation and mediation.
“People have taken sides in the political process and that has impaired the ability to cooperate, to work out solutions to community problems,” said Knox. “And if the citizens resort to the courts to resolve political issues, that seems to say that they don’t have confidence in their political system, and they’ve lost their will to fix it.”