Riviera council agrees to pay $45,214 legal bill

RIVIERA BEACH What do Singer Island resident Dawn Pardo and mainland activist Dan Calloway have in common? Both got support Wednesday from the new mayor and three city council members they helped elect.

The council voted 4-1 Wednesday to pay Pardo's $45,214 legal bill after she battled the city in court. Pardo, as chairwoman of the Public Beach Coalition, sued Riviera Beach after its petitions to limit growth at the Ocean Mall were rejected by City Clerk Carrie Ward.

In court, the coalition won the right to put two charter amendments on the March ballot. Voters overwhelming supported the amendments that limit building height on the city's public beach to five stories and keep municipal beach leases to 50 years.

After winning that fight, Pardo asked the city to pay her legal fees. Now that it will do so, the coalition will drop the remainder of its legal battle against the city.

Pardo said the payment was proper because the previous council tried to keep residents from having a say on what was built at the Ocean Mall on Singer Island.

"Even though my name was on the lawsuit, the old council sued the citizen and it was right for them to pay our legal fees," Pardo said.

The two ballot measures have thwarted builder Dan Catalfumo's $280 million deal with the city to build a 28-story condo/hotel along with shops and restaurants at the Ocean Mall.

The fight over the Ocean Mall created an alliance between Singer Island and mainland black leaders like Dan Calloway and the Rev. Herman McCray. In March, that alliance ousted former Mayor Michael Brown and three incumbent council members.

In their places, the group elected Mayor Thomas Masters and council members Shelby Lowe, Cedrick Thomas and Lynne Hubbard.

On Wednesday, after agreeing to pay Pardo's legal fees, the council supported Calloway's request for $88,200 for a Gang Awareness Week.

Councilman Cedrick Thomas asked acting City Attorney Glen Torcivia whether paying Pardo's bill was legal. Torcivia assured the council that it had the authority to pay the fees as part of settling the case.

"It's a lawful decision," Torciva said.

Councilwoman Lynne Hubbard said paying the legal bill would be cheaper for the city in the long run. The city shouldn't continue spending money on attorneys, while it's waiting for a judge to rule on whether the city must pay Pardo's legal fees.

"The settlement is to minimize the amount of money we're spending," Hubbard said. "We're trying to take the lesser way in order to be good stewards of the citizens' money."

The payment will go to the coalition's attorney, John Jorgensen.

But lone-dissenter Councilwoman Norma Duncombe still questioned whether the settlement was legal, despite Torcivia's explanation. She also felt that the new council members were sending a bad message to the residents.

"This would be considered mismanagement of funds," said Duncombe, who supported Brown and his slate of council candidates.

Meanwhile, as Wednesday night's council meeting was about to end, Thomas made a motion to put Calloway's request for Gang Awareness Week funding on the agenda.

Pardo, who was in the audience, spoke in favor of the city supporting the weeklong program slated for June 23-July 1. It features a host of activities that include bringing in football players from the National Football League and a step show.

Bill Contole, who leads the Singer Island-based Citizens for Responsible Growth for Riviera Beach, also spoke in support of the Gang Awareness Week, which is being sponsored by the city and Calloway's Youth Recreation Association.

Earlier in the week, City Manager Bill Wilkins told the council he pulled the item off the agenda after learning that Palm Beach County wouldn't pay for the program. The request didn't fit the criteria for the county's youth empowerment initiative.

Wilkins told the council he wanted more time to find money for the program because it wasn't in the budget. That made council Chairman Lowe reluctant to push for a vote on Wednesday.

He stressed to his colleagues that he wanted to approve the measure properly. But clearly the crowd and a majority of the council backed moving forward with a vote and it passed.

Wilkins said he would probably take the money from the city's contingency fund.

Contacted Thursday, Calloway said he was "embarrassed" that his request took on a political tone. Calloway, who is retired from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, said he originally asked the city for $63,000.

However, the budget grew after city staff, including the parks and recreation department and the events coordinator, got involved, Calloway said. His goal wasn't to become a part of the political process, but to provide a program that would inspire the city's youth to avoid being involved with crime.

"I'm not on the city's payroll," said Calloway, who added that he held similar programs about 20 years ago.

"The thing that bothers me is that we let personalities get in the way. We need to spend the money to disarm these gang units."