A Dark Day In Century: Town Official Admits Sunshine Law Violations, ‘Wrongful Act’

October 8, 2019

All governmental agencies in Florida must follow the state’s open meetings law known as the Sunshine law. Monday night, the Town of Century failed.

Four town council members were present as three of them discussed policies and methods to comply with the Sunshine Law prior to the start of a meeting that was not properly noticed.  And the interim town manager admitted that a meeting was a “wrongful act” held without being properly advertised per the Sunshine Law.

The meeting in question was four town council members sitting as the town’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) board. NorthEscambia.com learned of the meeting Saturday after opening an email sent by the town at 2:48 p.m. Friday that contained an agenda.

When NorthEscambia.com Publisher William Reynolds walked into the council chamber prior to the 6 p.m. start time, at least three board members were involved in active discussion about methods the council could use to provide proper public notice of meetings.  A partial transcript of the discussion is at the bottom of this article.

Ann Brooks, Sandra McMurray-Jackson and Luis Gomez were engaged in active conversation about complying with the Sunshine Law and steps staff could take to that end. Ben Boutwell was present at the time, but was not heard speaking.

It is arguable that foreseeable action could be taken by the council regarding policies and procedures related to the Sunshine Law. In fact, the council has held policy and procedure workshops and had repeated discussions on a developing a council-approved policies and procedures manual. That council discussions have included discussion of setting Sunshine Law compliance procedures. In additional, a grand jury recommended that Century develop a set of policies and procedures and receive additional Sunshine training.

“In the absence of statutory exemption, any gathering of two or more members to discuss any matter on which foreseeable action may be taken must be open to the public, noticed to the public, and minutes kept,” the Florida 2019 Government In The Sunshine Manual states.

Following the Sunshine Law policies discussion, CRA board Chairman Ben Boutwell called the CRA board meeting to order at 6 p.m..

During their meeting, the CRA board discussed an executive director agreement with Escambia County, heard an update on a community garden project, learned a CRA report would be due next year, discussed applying for grants, working with other nonprofits, a first project for next year, and a town water project for the community garden. The discussion lasted about five minutes.

“I was advised, William, that the notice was placed sometime before April the first,” City Manager Buz Eddy said in response to questions about any public notice for the CRA meeting. “We sent out a list of three dates when the CRA would meet.”

That CRA meeting list from six months ago was posted in the Century Post Office on Monday night when we checked, but was not posted inside or on the door of Century Town Hall.

Just last week at Sunshine Law meeting with the town’s newly-formed Charter Review Committee, Town Attorney Matt Dannheisser advised that public notices should be on the front door of town hall. While that was his recommendation to ensure compliance, the Sunshine Law does not specifically state that notices be on the front door, just posted as the meeting location.

Two town council members, Gomez and Jackson, attended that Charter Review Committee discussion on the Sunshine Law and public records requirements, even though their presence was not publicly noticed.

Florida’s Sunshine Law specifies that reasonable notice must be given of all public meetings. It does not specifically define what is “reasonable” notice, but the Florida Attorney General’s Office offers several suggested guidelines listed in the Sunshine Manual.

“The notice should be prominently displayed in the area in the agency’s offices set aside for that purpose, e.g., for cities, in city hall…” Again, there was no notice of the CRA meeting posted anywhere at Century Town Hall.

A state attorney general’s opinion noted in the Sunshine Manual states that “Notice is required even though meetings of the board are “of general knowledge” and are not conducted in a closed door manner”. In addition that fact that no vote was taken by the CRA board would be irrelevant, per the Sunshine Manual, because “reasonable notice required even if the subject of meeting is ‘relatively unimportant’.”

Reynolds asked why there was no meeting notice posted at town hall.

“Good question. We talked about that just a second ago before the chairman called the meeting to order,” Eddy said. “We need to have a place out front to post notices.”

“William, sometimes you got to make stuff difficult for your benefit. He (Eddy) said it was noticed and published in April, before the week of April the first. And that’s not good enough for you. You’ve got to make a big deal out of it when it was already published at the post office. I seen that thing a month ago.”

“Don’t you think a month or two months is adequate time to post for a meeting?” Gomez asked.  He the accused NorthEscambia.com of wanting to “sabotage and disrupt for their benefit”.

“If it was done several months ago, people need a reminder. You probably wouldn’t have remembered this meeting at 6 o’clock if you hadn’t had some kind of reminder,” Brooks said. “Anyone that is interested in the town, they need a reminder.”

“Anybody can go to the post office and see it,” Gomez said.

“I never go in the post office,” Brooks responded.

Gomez said he did not check the lobby bulletin board or front door at town hall to see if a public notice was posted because “I knew I had a meeting tonight.”

“I looked, and I didn’t see them there,” Eddy said.

Gomez then denied that he took part in the discussion prior to the convening of the CRA meeting.

“Did you hear me speak?” Gomez said. “Check the recording, but until then don’t go putting words in my mouth. If I didn’t say nothing and nobody else said nothing, nobody said anything.”

Gomez is clearly audible on a recording participating in the discussion prior to the start of the meeting, with his statements listed below.

During the regular council meeting, Eddy apologized for the public notice discussion during the CRA meeting.

“We did not advertise that meeting properly,” Eddy said. He said a “timeout should have been called and the meeting should not be held. And that’s what we should have done.” He said the town would advertise another CRA meeting and redo all discussion.

“This is going to hopefully mitigate the action, but it’s not going to eliminate the wrongful act,” Eddy remarked.

“I just hate that we put you in that position,” he later added.


Here is portion of the discussion held by Gomez, Brooks and Jackson prior to the convening of an improperly advertised meeting Monday night:

Ann Brooks suggested posting public notices at the post office.

“I know they at the post office,” Sandra McMurray-Jackson said.

“What about the sign out there?” Luis Gomez asked, referring to the electronic message board in front of town hall.

“That was exactly the reason we purchased that sign,” Brooks said.

“How hard would it be to type it in there?” Gomez asked.

“That would be a very good solution if it worked,” Brooks continued later in the conversation.

Pictured: Century Town Council members Luis Gomez, Ann Brooks, Sandra McMurray Jackson and Ben Boutwell sit as the Century CRA board Monday night. Pictured inset: Town officials said a notice for the October 7 meeting was placed on this bulletin board over six months ago. Pictured below: Bulletin boards in the Century Post Office as seen Monday night. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

Comments

33 Responses to “A Dark Day In Century: Town Official Admits Sunshine Law Violations, ‘Wrongful Act’”

  1. Another thot on October 9th, 2019 6:10 pm

    Here’s the Florida Attorney General website on the Florida Sunshine Law. The requirements and process are clearly spelled out.

    http://myfloridalegal.com/pages.nsf/Main/321B47083D80C4CD8525791B006A54E3

  2. David on October 9th, 2019 11:58 am

    @ Margielu
    Century deserve public servants with attention to detail?
    With all due respect, the people who deserve servants is the same people that vote which clown troupe each time to vote in
    The citizens do not want better…if they did…we would not be on here year after year talking about uneducated, people running the town, and they do not want to be educated
    They fall back on pleading ignorant to the facts. When all else fails…plead ignorant, worked so far and will continue that way..no matter who post what on this forum.

  3. IMHO on October 9th, 2019 10:35 am

    So what’s new? Not the first time….

    Deferred Prosecution For Task Force Members; State Still Contends Century Violated Sunshine Law
    September 22, 2016 –

    State Attorney charges three Century Council members with violating the Sunshine Law
    Thursday, January 3rd 2019

  4. Margielu on October 9th, 2019 9:56 am

    Thanks go to William for appropriately covering this repetitive behavior of acentury’s “Officials” conversing outside the Sunshine.

    Wether you perceive this as minor infraction or major faux pas or lack of accountability, it all boils down to one thing:

    If the town council of Century cannot manage to get the “little things” right, how can they possibly handle major issues, statutory mandates and critical or legal matters? They obviously need additional intervention. I believe it’s well past time to bring the entire town council into the full light of day, Sunshine or not. Our neighbors in Century deserve public servants with attention to detail.

  5. Alan on October 9th, 2019 8:45 am

    This has such a simple solution. Revoke the city charter and return the area to county control. Taxes will go down, infrastructure will improve, and corruption will be greatly reduced. But that makes too much sense so I have a feeling we will be reading about the Dysfunctional Town of Century for years to come.

  6. just sayin on October 9th, 2019 8:41 am

    Blah Blah Blah. How long will it continue?

  7. JB on October 9th, 2019 7:27 am

    When are these people up for election?

  8. SE on October 9th, 2019 4:05 am

    @Wayne J an @Dan,
    I’m old enough to remember the editor of the Tri City Ledger being on Flomaton’s government a few years ago.

    William is doing what he should be doing-keeping them accountable.

    @Sam,
    They do have a professional as a consultant, yet they still can’t get it right.

    @Bob,
    Exactly.

    Inept. Sad.

  9. Stumpknocker on October 9th, 2019 12:04 am

    These people have no clue, they sound like a bunch of kids making rules up for a club house. And it’s amazing Gomez remembered about a meeting. At this point if anyone wants to run for office they have one heck of a job to get in there and fix issues.

  10. BIG JOHN on October 8th, 2019 9:05 pm

    WELL NOTHING CHANGE WITH THE TOC, SAME OLD ,SAME OLD THINGS! GOING ON. HOW ,HOW LONG BEFORE SOMEONE FROM THE STATE COME UP AND PUT’S SOMEONE IN JAIL ???????

  11. IMHO on October 8th, 2019 8:21 pm

    So, this week it’s Williams fault, because he’s nitpicking. It’s always someone else’s fault. So much for hiring an expert for guidance!

  12. James on October 8th, 2019 4:52 pm

    Michael, why don’t you attend the water board meetings? They are open to the public and you can do a civic duty to your neighbors. Besides, William has enough on his plate with Century. Lol!

  13. Michael on October 8th, 2019 4:22 pm

    I would like to see northescambia.com attend more meetings in the area, Including some of these local water company board meetings in the Cantonment area. I think the public should be aware of the issues in the local small good ole boy run systems.

  14. Alan on October 8th, 2019 2:31 pm

    These people need to be in JAIL. When will the State Attorney’s Office and our Judges Do Their Job and lock up these fools? Everyone of them should be locked up doing Hard Time. What’s your problem State Attorney’s Office?

  15. David Huie Green on October 8th, 2019 1:44 pm

    Leave the cameras and microphones on at all times. Save it all to the cloud.
    Let the whole world watch as it happens and a hundred years later.
    Don’t depend on remembering to get it right.
    Make it hard to remember to do it wrong.

    David for simple solutions
    for obvious reasons

  16. chris on October 8th, 2019 1:41 pm

    So……if you point out the failure to follow simple rules and procedures, it’s nit picking?

  17. Hmmmm on October 8th, 2019 12:01 pm

    Is this what’s called a vicious circle? They break the Sunshine law by having a discussion of how they can better comply with the Sunshine law.

  18. Wayne on October 8th, 2019 11:20 am

    I dont know which is the lesser of two evils, what the town management has been doing…for years or the people of Century who thinks its normal
    And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for. thee that one of thy members should perish, and. not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. If you know what that means

  19. Bob on October 8th, 2019 10:56 am

    You can’t fix stupid.

    Shut down the Town of Century.

    The town is corrupt, incompetent and needs to be dissolved!!!

  20. mq on October 8th, 2019 10:33 am

    Once Again……

  21. shaking my head on October 8th, 2019 10:29 am

    So, for all these years, they have been in non-compliance? No one noticed this before now? Or is it a result of an incompetent staff? Why are they still there? The Town Clerk should have been doing this all along.
    Why all of a sudden are there this many problems with compliance? Is this deliberate on their part? Do they want the county to take over? Is that what all this is for?

  22. Wayne J. on October 8th, 2019 10:16 am

    When I got out of the Town of Century’s political arena back in the 1980’s I thought we had a strong running little town. The council members were not well educated nor the Mayors so sophisticated . We did not have a nosey on line so called paper nick picking everything that was said or done. No one was out for a personal gain or notoriety. Just trying to do this small town an assistance. We was able to secure Public water, Sewer system, Garbage and trash services and try to keep town streets smooth and/or passable. I feel the council wants to do a good job now and maybe the Mayor needs just needs to work closer and keep the council better informed. We had a City Clerk (Mr. Ray Lawson) that was on top off things state wide and the Town owed him a Great Gratitude. It just takes folks that are interested and not just a pay check.

  23. David on October 8th, 2019 10:16 am

    They say its an unlawful act….they did not have to say it for it to come to light
    Every day this towns leadership makes a laughing stock out the the citizens
    In turn, the citizens are no different, they keep letting it happen
    The citizens deserve what they get…stop whining, you love it. Stop complaining , you cant do without it.

  24. John Doe on October 8th, 2019 9:49 am

    the headline lead me to believe this was some kind of terrible event. it’s just people making simple mistakes. I get that they are not supposed to do it, but they were just having a conversation.

  25. just saying on October 8th, 2019 9:17 am

    Come on William, how dare you ask they follow the law. Next thing they will be calling you “fake news”.

    Never fret the public sees through their smoke and mirrors. Incompetence on their part.

  26. dan on October 8th, 2019 9:13 am

    its amazing how such a little town can be SO corrupt.

  27. Wow just wow on October 8th, 2019 8:15 am

    One would think that a town ran by such simpletons would be able to follow simple standard operating procedures. Apparently this is NOT the case in Century. When is someone from the state going to step in and take these fools down a notch or two and get this city back on track? Come on, Florida!! Do it for Century’s people.

  28. sam on October 8th, 2019 6:37 am

    someone that KNOWS how a municipality is run should be brought in and advised all city officials how the law says this stuff has to be done. i don’t think anyone is trying to do it wrong, it’s just been screwed up so long it has become a joke.

  29. Bob C. on October 8th, 2019 6:36 am

    One more sad chapter for Century is being written.

  30. Oversight on October 8th, 2019 6:33 am

    Century town clowns – all of them. Obstinate and ignorant, they can not be trained in the proper workings of the law. Time for the States Attorney’s Office to file charges on all of these so called politicians and make them truly pay the price this time. No more slaps on the back of the hand.

    By the way, how’s that search for a town manager coming along? Lol!

  31. Travis on October 8th, 2019 6:03 am

    They mess up a lot of things but this is just nit-picking.

  32. EMD on October 8th, 2019 5:52 am

    If these “leaders” really wanted the citizens of Century to come to their meetings, they would publish the date of these meetings in northescambia.com. and on WEAR 3 and the local paper, if they have one. Why would people that do not know how to govern and run a town run for office in that town? I can think of only one or two reasons, and the good of the town and its people is not one of them. I know I do not know how to run/govern a town. Therefore, I would not run for that position. This nonsense has gone on for years. Where do they get the money to keep it going when they are so far in debt? Why don’t they fix the problems there BEFORE they make big moves that cost a lot of money and/or are not necessary. They should spend money only on the basics until they fix the problem or ask for someone to take over the town. Big shot wannabees are not looked on as big shots when they keep doing things that make them look like fools. And, anyone I have heard talk about the problems in Century think people there only get into office to line their own pockets. Even if that is not the case, it certainly appears that way. People naturally think that people wanting to “be somebody” apply for that job and make that poor little town even poorer than it is already is. I hope that is not the case, but do not see how this mess has been allowed to go on for so long. Does anyone have any oversight in such matters? The governor maybe?

  33. M in Bratt on October 8th, 2019 5:14 am

    The Sunshine Law is not some complicated and intricate legislation. It has been explained to these people by almost every authority in the State of Florida. I wonder if they are too stupid to understand it, or too arrogant to believe it applies to the little Town of Century? Either way, it’s way past time for a change. .





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