There’s no question that in recent years the Town of Summerfield has spent a lot of money on legal fees related to lawsuits against the town as well as public records request disputes.
A legal action from former Town Councilmember Todd Rotruck kept the town in court for over two years, and, also in recent years, legal disputes over public records requests have cost the town a pretty penny in legal fees.
Summerfield resident and local newspaper publisher Don Wendelken took issue recently, however, when some Summerfield Town Council members complained at a meeting about “frivolous” lawsuits that have been costing the town money.
On Tuesday, June 21, Wendelken emailed Mayor Tim Sessoms questioning the use of the term “frivolous” when it came to lawsuits.
“At recent council meetings, when lawsuits and public records requests are mentioned, a few of you state that the budget is higher because of ‘frivolous’ lawsuits by named individuals,” Wendelken wrote. “Frivolous has a variety of meanings, and I would like to know what cases were frivolous based on the legal definition.”
Former Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham, who made a large public records request of the town, was called out as one of the frivolous lawsuits – but earlier this year, she won her case and the judge required the town to pay her attorney fees.
Note: One of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definitions for “frivolous” is “having no sound basis (as in fact or law).”
Sessoms response stated that “the case with Gail was not that we did NOT want to produce docs, it was that she is frivolously submitting aimless public record request in search of something terrible someone is doing.”
Sessoms added that it’s certainly fine to suspect something is wrong with town government and make a request. However, he added, “when you continually [make requests] month after month and year after year to no avail and no wrong doing: that is frivolous.”
The current Summerfield mayor added, “Our staff and council work hard to keep Summerfield a small limited services government but [that] is increasingly difficult when constantly dealing with the magnitude of her request.”
Sessoms predecessor, former Summerfield Mayor BJ Barnes, also complained regularly about the burden placed on town staff by those unhappy citizens making large records requests.
Wendelken has also had many run-ins with the town over his own public records requests: In one instance, the town charged him hundreds of dollars for town staff time to meet his request.