Garner charges City Council broke law

August 29, 2006

Bsoc signTom Garner has written State Attorney Bill Eddins requesting that he investigate whether the Pensacola City Council violated Florida Sunshine Laws when it deliberated over the Community Maritime Park. He wrote that there may have been the possible receipt of “unlawful compensation by members of the Pensacola City Council.”

The 26-page letter uses the emails uncovered during the numerous public records requests by Save Our City as the basis for Garner’s allegations. Public statements from Councilman Marty Donovan, who is not included in the accusations, are also quoted heavily. Donovan confirmed his quotes with Garner on Sunday, August 27, according to the letter’s footnotes.

My Blog is also referenced (Downtown Buzz).

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This really isn’t anything new. These are the same accusations Marty and Charlie have been hinting about on their BLAB show and in the public for weeks. It’s unclear how big a role they played in helping Garner with his letter.

Either way it’s a shame that the names and reputations of eight Pensacola city councilmen, the mayor and the city manager are being attacked just five days before the vote on the Vince Whibbs, Sr., Community Maritime Park.

State Atty Eddins still has to decide if he believes Garner’s charges are worthy of an investigation.

It may take days before Eddins makes any announcements. It may take months to clear Donovan’s fellow councilmen’s names.

Don’t expect Marty “Bilbo” Donovan to win any popularity contests in City Hall. And don’t expect them to site quietly by any longer while their fellow councilman, Mr. Donovan, insinuates inside deals and helps their political opponents try to defeat them in the November.

____________________

Meanwhile, the Community Maritime Park needs to be voted on. It’s merits need to be judged purely on the facts of the proposal. Will the stadium-conference center/UWF classroom-maritime museum combination be strong enough to attract more private investment to the park and revitalize the community? Can it be paid for with CRA funds without burdening the citizens? Are they proper safeguards to protect the public interest?

I warned you that SOC would play dirty…expect it to get worse.

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9 Responses to “Garner charges City Council broke law”

  1. Tom Garner Says:

    Rick,

    Thanks for your coverage of this issue. A couple of small corrections:

    1. You’ve stated that the complaint I filed with the State Attorney revolves solely around the issue of possible acceptance of unlawful compensation on the part of council members, when the bulk of the complaint (more than 95%) actually regards possible Sunshine Law violations on the part of Council. The text of the complaint is 26 pages long, only two pages of which address the issue of the “five votes in our pocket” e-mail. Also, I explicitly state in the complaint that the e-mail “is by no means proof” that council members acted in violation of the law, but that the phrase “in our pocket” is commonly used to describe situations in which elected officials have received something of value in return for official action and, for that reason, it should be looked into.

    My reasoning was that, after the Escambia County Commission scandal of a few years ago, it’s not in anyone’s best interest to let these questions linger. And there are questions in the community. As you pointed out on your blog back in July, you yourself overheard a comment at the Esquire Barber Shop in which someone asked “If they could find someone writing about having councilmen in their pocket, what else is going on behind the scenes?” You felt the comment was significant enough that you posted it on your blog.

    2. You state that the complaint does not involve Councilmember Donovan, however, in regard to the Sunshine Law violations, if the council as a whole acted in violation of the law, Councilmember Donovan, as a member of the council, did as well.

    3. In regard to whether or not the Council’s reputation is damaged by this, I will point out that Councilmember Wu and Mayor Fogg, at the January 9, 2005 council meeting requested that if anyone had any evidence of any impropriety on the part of council members, that they should bring that evidence forward to those with the power to investigate. Councilmember De Sorbo, at the June 22, 2006 council meeting reiterated what Wu and Fogg had said, saying that he “would welcome any kind of investigation into that that needs to be done.”

    4. You question how much help I was given by Charles Fairchild and Councilmember Donovan in writing this complaint. I’ll direct you to the Save Our City website and the press packets that were made available at the end of June. If you compare those press packets to the complaint I authored, you’ll see that
    I delved into the issue in significantly more depth than Save Our City. The Save Our CIty press packet is 14 pages long, whereas the complaint I filed totals 116 pages including 48 exhibits and 79 footnotes. While I will give credit to the Save Our City press conference for directing my attention to this issue, the complaint I filed is solely mine and I am responsible for it. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t give credit for my work to others.

    In regard to my conversation with Councilmember Donovan, two pieces of information were related to me as having been stated publicly by Donovan. Since I intended to use these two pieces of information in the formal complaint, I contacted Donovan to determine whether or not the statements attributed to him were, in fact, accurate. In other words, I did what I advised you to do several weeks ago on this very blog, that is, to contact Donovan and determine whether or not information you had been given about him was, in fact, accurate. I’m certain he will talk to you. Just call him: 432-6104. This is his office number from the phone book.

    5. It occurs to me that the reason you may not be aware of the details of the complaint is that you haven’t received a copy of the complaint. If you need a copy of the complaint, I can provide a copy to you. In addition, If you’d like to post a copy of the complaint on your blog or website, I’ve created a redacted copy from which the names of all persons who are not public figures have been removed.

    If I can answer any more questions or provide any additional information, please let me know. You have my e-mail.

    Tom Garner

  2. Tom Garner Says:

    Rick,

    In rereading your post, I realize that you did mention the possible Sunshine Law violations. Sorry for the mistake.

    Tom Garner

  3. scoop yet Says:

    heard there was a 3 p.m. press conference at city hall regarding this?

  4. Jim McClellan Says:

    Tom, who was illegally compensated? How? And how were the Sunshine Laws violated?

  5. Tom Garner Says:

    Jim,

    Well, it’s a complicated question, and I don’t want to use up all of Rick’s blog space in trying to answer it, so I’ll try to answer it briefly, and then refer you to a copy of the complaint itself, which has been posted on the Gulf1 website under the Save Our City link on the right hand side of the main page.

    Regarding the issue of the possible illegal compensation, I explain that part of the complaint in my initial response just above your question. In short, a representative of the Community Maritime Park group (CMPG) wrote an e-mail in which he used the phrase “in our pocket” to describe the votes of five council members in regard to the CMPG proposal. The phrase is a peculiar one in that it is commonly understood to describe a scenario in which an elected official has received something of value in return for an official action.

    My feeling was, that, given the use of this phrase and it’s commonly understood connotations, this issue should be looked at to make sure nothing improper had taken place. It was my view that it serves no one to have questions lingering in regard to this kind of issue, particularly given what happened with the Escambia County Commission several years ago. In other words, I felt that it was important to clear the air in regard to this issue, and the best way to do that was to have the State Attorney have a look at it.

    In regard to violations of the Sunshine Law, these potential violations take three forms:

    1.Individual council members participating in meetings with the city manager or the CMPG with the same agenda being discussed at each meeting.

    2.Representatives of the CMPG acting as a conduit for information between council members.

    3.Discussion of city business between two council members outside of public forums.

    It should be noted that these would be a violation only on the part of the council members who, as a function of their position as elected officials, are subject to the Sunshine Law.

    I encourage you to go to Gulf1 and read the complaint for yourself. It’s long, but I think it’s pretty self explanatory. You should also have a look at the Government in the Sunshine Manual, which is available at the Florida Attorney General’s web site at:

    http://myfloridalegal.com/sun.nsf/manual

    Thanks.

    Tom Garner

  6. Jim McClellan Says:

    Tom, I’ve read your explanation and your complaint and seems a bit of a stretch to me. I’m well familiar with the GIS laws (having lived under them for many years) and, based on your read, I would have to conclude that all individual lobbying and advocacy efforts are illegal. In fact, based on your criteria, Charles Fairchild’s ongoing communications and coordination with Councilman Donovan are illegal. After all, SOC is an organization with an agenda to influence City policy. Numerous out-of-the-Sunshine meetings and communications between the two took place. How are those different?

  7. Tom Garner Says:

    Jim,

    The difference is whether or not a single member of an elected board was met with or whether all members of the same elected board were met with to discuss a particular agenda.
    In this case, all members of the Council were met with within a very short period of time to discuss a single issue, the CMPG proposal.

    Of course, the complaint also deals with a private entity acting as a liaison between council members as well as the possibility that at least two council members discussed CMPG-realted issues with each other directly.

    Tom Garner

  8. Jim McClellan Says:

    Tom, if you have evidence that two members met and discussed this issue, I didn’t see it in your complaint. Saying in effect that it might have happened is pretty lame.

    In terms of meeting with council members individually to discuss the same issue, I refer back to my earlier comments: Isn’t what advocates for all sorts of causes do frequently? Don’t you meet with individual members in an effort to explain your point of view? I just don’t see how this was any different, except for the fact that it conflicts with your agenda.

  9. James Says:

    Bro, give me a call. 757-293-8616.

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