NOVEMBER 2003: Volusia County Judge Mary Jane Henderson imposed a noncriminal judgment against Oak Hill City Commissioner Ron Mercer for violating Florida’s Sunshine Law. He was fined $500. The judgment stems from a conversation between Mercer and another commissioner, Bob Jackson, in Jackson’s driveway in January 2002. The pair reportedly discussed the possible appointment of Jackson as mayor. (See also December 2002, July 2003, and August 2005)
OCTOBER 2003: A grand jury suggested that all eight members of the Cape Coral City Council take more training in the state’s open meetings laws. The grand jury found that two council members violated the Sunshine Law, but chose not to indict because it found there was no corrupt intent. The videotaped conversation about a proposed skate park took place between Mayor Arnold Kempe and Councilman Dick Stevens during a meeting break in July 2003.
AUGUST 2003: Two Flagler County School Board officials were fined $500 each for violating Florida’s Sunshine Law. Board Chairman Edward Herrera and board member Jim Guines faced the unintentional civil infractions for privately discussing a raise for their superintendent.
JULY 2003: In Deland, Oak Hill City Commissioner Bob Jackson pleaded no contest to charges that he violated the Open Meetings Law. Jackson has been ordered by a county court to pay $250 in fines, and to take a Sunshine Law class. Jackson was accused of illegally meeting with Commissioner Ron Mercer to discuss several issues scheduled to come before the commission.
JULY 2003: The charge was dropped against former Escambia County School Board member Vanette Webb, the first public official jailed for violating the state’s Open Records Law. Prosecutors chose not to pursue another trial against Webb, who was ordered to spend 30 days in jail after being found guilty of withholding a public record from a Pensacola mother. County Judge William White threw out Webb’s conviction after she had served seven days of the sentence. A state appeals court later reinstated the conviction. The case was eventually sent back to White, who granted Webb a new trial in March 2002. An appeals court upheld the order for a new trial. State Attorney Curtis Golden dropped the charge and told the Pensacola News-Journal he was satisfied with the outcome of the case. “Charges were dropped five years too late,” Webb wrote in an e-mail to the News-Journal. “Justice delayed is justice denied.” (See also May 1999, October 1999, November 1999, March 2001)
JULY 2003: Former Welaka town official Steve Richardson was found guilty of violating Florida’s Public Records Law. Richardson will not have a criminal record in the case, but he was ordered to pay a $150 fine. Richardson was accused of refusing to let two men inspect a sign-out sheet of recreational equipment, which according to the complaint, was accessible immediately.
JUNE 2003: Escambia County Commissioner W.D.
Childers was sentenced to 60 days in jail, the maximum penalty
for one count of violating the state’s Sunshine Law. Childers
is the first elected official to be jailed for breaking the open
meetings section of the law. Childers was also ordered to pay
fines and court costs, totaling near $4,000.
MAY 2003: Welaka Mayor Gordon Sands pleaded no contest and paid a $500 fine after being charged last year with violating the Sunshine Law. The charge stems from a discussion Sands reportedly held with another town council member to discuss nominating council member Curtis Williams as council president at a public meeting. Prosecutors and defense attorney James McCune both asked County Judge Peter Miller to withhold adjudication, which means Sands will not have a criminal record. Miller equated Sand’s civil infraction to “a speeding ticket” and did not find him guilty.
MARCH 2003: Two Kissimmee city commissioners charged with violating the Sunshine Law after failing to notify the public about meetings accepted a deal to plead no contest to misdemeanor charges, a State Attorney’s Office official said. Commissioner Wendell McKinnon and former Commissioner Bob Makinson both made last minute pleas to avoid a criminal record. They pleaded guilty to civil violations, will face $50 fines and court costs and were cleared by the State Ethics Commission. (See also November 2002)
FEBRUARY 2003: The Lakeland Ledger filed suit
against the Florida Department of Citrus, claiming that the department
violated the Sunshine Law. The department has been accused of
withholding records and closing meetings concerning a scientific
generic citrus advertising study involving $190,000. The study
is important, as it could potentially change the size and actions
of the Citrus Department, a state agency.
FEBRUARY 2003: Circuit Judge Robert P. Cates issued a ruling declaring that a meeting of the Chiefland City Commission violated the Florida Sunshine Law. (See also February 2002)