Jax general counsel issues “Sunshine Law” memo to JEA board, before Lenny Curry requests resignations

jacksonville

[UPDATED: In the wake of this memo, The Florida-Times Union reports on Monday night that Lenny Curry has sought resignation letters from every other member of the JEA Board

“The mayor felt it necessary to communicate with the five remaining board members given the recent admonishment by the general counsel of the city of Jacksonville and further revelations by the Times-Union of purported dysfunction of the board,” Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart told the T-U.

“However, asking for immediate resignations of the remaining five board members would have left the JEA without a functioning board in the very near term,” Stewart added, saying that no immediate decisions have been made.]

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Last week, Jacksonville’s General Counsel Jason Gabriel issued a seven-page memo to JEA board members, offering guidance on the Sunshine Law.

Gabriel reminded them that the Sunshine Law has been in effect since 1967, and part of the Florida Constitution since 1992.

This is newly relevant since there have been what Gabriel called a “couple of incidents” related to JEA board practices, including scripted comments in meetings, which have come under scrutiny in recent weeks – a controversy that led to the departure of board members Lisa Weatherby and Peter Bower.

Gabriel also pointed out that in 2008 the state attorney urged the Office of General Counsel to take “additional promotional responsibilities” regarding Sunshine Law education and implementation

Among the highlights: Gabriel asserts that, to violate the Sunshine Law, “it does not always take two to tango.”

Use of third-party intermediaries between two board members, as well as undue reliance on delegation of authority, can be construed as “evasive devices” intended to undermine the Sunshine Law.

Violations of the Sunshine Law, among the most liberal of such laws in the country, are fraught with risk, including of criminal and civil penalties,  Gabriel says.

“Unilateral dissemination of information,” Gabriel says, is potentially a “slippery slope” toward other Sunshine Law violations. Likewise, position papers for members of boards distributed from one to others is termed “problematical” and “should be discouraged.”

The prohibition extends to scripted quasi-discussions of the “compensation” of the “managing director,” the precise practice that got the board exposed in The Florida Times-Union.

Of interest to City Council members: The memo also addresses texting, which is described as a violation of the Sunshine Law when used for “private discussions of board business.”

 

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com



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