Florida Mayor and his illegal deal with hotel developer to benefit his own business

Burnie ThompsonUncategorized

FLORIDA MAYOR MAKES ILLEGAL DEAL WITH HOTEL DEVELOPER

By Burnie Thompson, Jan. 27, 2020

AT ISSUE: 

PANAMA CITY BEACH, FL – Panama City Beach Mayor Mike Thomas and the City Council said it is illegal to consider traffic congestion when voting on any development in the state of Florida (at 27:40) after a resident suggested asking the developer to extend Shalimar Road from front Front Beach Road to Back Beach Road in order to reduce traffic congestion.

– Sept. 27, 2018 Special Height Incentive Meeting (quasi-judicial hearing) 

Only 50 minutes later, Mayor Thomas conditions his deciding vote (at 1:08:10) on whether or not the developer would do what he just said was illegal: Extend Shalimar Road from Front Beach Road all the way to Back Beach Road in order to reduce traffic on Front Beach Road at Mike’s Diner (owned by Mayor Thomas). He proffers the condition to the developer with the ultimate bargaining leverage: It’s his moment to cast the deciding vote to break the 2-2 tie. The developer concedes on the spot. 

– Sept. 27, 2018 Special Height Incentive Meeting 

MAYOR THOMAS NOW BRAGS ABOUT IT

FROM NOV. 8, 2018 CITY COUNCIL MEETING MINUTES: 

“Mayor Thomas said he voted in support of the application only after the developer agreed to build road (page 3) to Back Beach Road and did not see a conflict of interest.” – Mayor Mike Thomas 

FROM NOV. 8, 2018 CITY COUNCIL MEETING LIVE STREAM ARCHIVE: 

“I voted for it because when I saw it was gonna pass like the others did, I saw an opportunity take some of the traffic off Front Beach Road and I made a deal with the developer (at 40:25) that he would put a road from his … from that project through his property to Back Beach Road. I was fairly proud of that.” – Mayor Mike Thomas 

FROM JAN. 23, 2020 CITY COUNCIL MEETING: 

“By the time it got to me, I could tell the vote was three to two, and instead of doing that I asked him if they’d put a road through to Back Beach Road from that parcel rather than putting that traffic out of Front Beach Road for the three more feet … three more stories (height incentive being voted on) because they were putting an 800-bed addition to a church camp right there with it plus the 15-story hotel. I think that was a very good swap. I’m proud of that swap. (at 1:145:40) But I think it makes for a better project and it certainly helps that end of the beach with traffic.” – Mayor Mike Thomas 

QUESTIONS:

Considering that Mayor Thomas and the City Council said that it violated Florida law to deny development based on traffic considerations (at 27:40), which was a quasi-judicial public hearing …

1. Was it illegal for Mayor Thomas to “swap” his deciding vote during a quasi-judicial hearing (at 1:08:10) with the hotel developer in exchange for a road to reduce traffic at his diner? 

2. Can the Mayor leverage a deciding vote during a quasi-judicial hearing contingent upon an added traffic-mitigation condition that was not included in the motion already voted on by the rest of the Council? 

3. Was the developer on the hook to provide more traffic mitigation than required by law or else be denied the height increase? 

4. Was it quid pro quo? If so, is it legal in that context? 

5. Was it extortion? 

6. Was it pay-to-play? (I.e., if the developer pays to build a new road that reduces traffic at his diner, THEN the Mayor would vote for their height increase.) 

7. Was it a conflict of interest considering the benefits his diner would receive? 

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