North Bay Village, PBA settle dispute over documents

A public-records lawsuit filed against North Bay Village has been settled, with the village paying more than $1,000 to the plaintiff.

The Dade County Police Benevolent Association filed the lawsuit in the fall of 2012 claiming that North Bay Village broke the law when it did not provide public records that the association had requested.

Florida has a broad public-records law determining which state, county and municipal records are available to the public for viewing and copying. There are certain exemptions, and that includes cases that are under investigation, which do not become public until they are closed.

The Police Benevolent Association made a public-records request on Sept. 1, 2011, and again on Feb. 24, 2012, asking for documents on two internal investigations within the village’s police department.

Both times, village clerk Yvonne Hamilton told the association that the records were not available because the investigations were ongoing.

But the PBA disagreed and filed the lawsuit.

After studying the case, the village attorney concluded that the PBA was right.

“It appears that the request should have been complied with at the time the request was made,” village attorney Nina Boniske told The Miami Herald.

To settle the case, North Bay Village paid the PBA $1,250 in attorneys’ fees, money taken from the village’s taxpayer-funded general fund.

“This is unacceptable,” said village Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps during the commission’s Feb. 12 meeting. “My concern is the expense. A thousand dollars here, $100 here, $500 here, $2,000 here — it adds up.”

During the meeting, Hamilton, the clerk, told commissioners that she was not the keeper of the requested records.

“At the time that the request was made, I was advised that … the case was still ongoing,” Hamilton said.

Documents attached to the PBA’s complaint show that Hamilton responded to the request, saying that the then-acting police chief was the one who told her the case was still open.

To avoid the cost of further litigation, commissioners approved the settlement at their February meeting and also instructed Village Manager Dennis Kelly to look into instituting a procedure that would prevent this from happening in the future.

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