Grocery store owner sues Collier County schools for violating Sunshine Law

Reporter: Michelle Alvarez Writer: Rachel Murphy
Published: Updated:

Alfie Oakes, the owner of Seed to Table grocery stores, is suing the Collier County school district.

Oakes claims they did not follow proper procedures while hiring the new superintendent. The school district asked the judge to toss the case Thursday.

Oakes does not want Dr. Leslie Ricciardelli to be the next Collier County Schools superintendent. Oakes’ lawyers went to court to argue the district violated the state’s Sunshine Law when it narrowed down its original list of candidates.

“Product of the Sunshine Law would result in the illegitimate appointment of a superintendent, who’s frankly one of the most powerful people in the county,” Oakes’ attorney, Steve Bracci, said. “They control the $1.5 billion behemoth in this county, and that’s the Collier County school district.”

Bracci asked the judge to issue a restraining order that would prevent the district from finalizing a contract with Ricciardelli.

“You can look at some of the comments at that last meeting, and you can see that there were discussions about the realization of Dr. Ricciardelli’s past, which because of the nature of the way the review process occurred, kind of got papered over,” Bracci said.

The lawyer for Collier County Schools said after narrowing down the original list, the district did everything in public and did not violate any laws.

“We think that more than 22 hours of subsequent public meetings where the board conducted interviews, heard comments, discuss the candidates, and took final action in the sunshine to vote on a selection of a new superintendent cured,” said Sam Zeskind, attorney of Collier County Schools.

Collier County Schools asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, saying Oakes cannot demonstrate that the district violated Sunshine Law.

The judge did not say when he might hold a future hearing or issue a ruling.

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