Century Secrets? Two Council Members Object To NorthEscambia.com Listening To Public Meeting

April 21, 2020

During a Monday night meeting, two Century town council members said NorthEscambia.com should not be listening to a council meeting being held by conference call.

Ordinarily, a majority of a governing body like the Century Town Council must be present in the same location in order to conduct a meeting in Florida, but that requirement was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis due to COVID-19 and social distancing. That allowed the council to hold the phone meeting and conduct town business. The March 20 executive order from DeSantis was very specific that no other portion of the Sunshine Law was suspended.

But that did not seem to matter to Century council members Luis Gomez and James Smith Monday night, as they complained that NorthEscambia might be listening to or recording the telephone conference call public meeting of the entire council.

The council has no legal right to require anyone to provide their name or speak aloud in order to attend a public meeting; public meetings in Florida are open to anyone.

The term “open to the public” as used in the Sunshine Law means open to all persons who choose to attend,” the 2020 Government in the Sunshine Manual states. The manual also states that a board “may not ban the use of non disruptive recording devices”, and “implicitly recognizes the public’s right to silently record public meetings”.

Florida does have a law that bans the recording of oral communications like telephone calls without the permission of all parties. But there’s a big exception. The law states that oral communication “does not mean any public oral communication uttered at a public meeting or any electronic communication”.

The council also ignored the fact that Florida statute requires the council to give the public opportunity to be heard on an item before a final vote. The public was not given any opportunity whatsoever to comment on any of the several items voted on by the council Monday night, and the council abandoned its usual public comment period. The City of Pensacola and Escambia County have taken great effort to continue public comment as required by law during their recent meetings, even providing online forms to submit comment in advance.

Here’s the exchange Monday night:

“Does everyone attending this meeting as a public record need to announce their self?”, Gomez asked during a 6:45 p.m. meeting advertised specifically for the purpose of discussing the town’s bills, not during the regular council meeting.

Council President Ann Brooks said a member of the public not announcing themselves verbally during a conference call would be very much like someone not signing an sign-in sheet that’s at every normal, pre-COVID-19 council meeting. It’s not required to provide your name to listen to or attend a public meeting.

“So it’s possible to be on this call without announcing (your name)?” Gomez asked.

“I would think that would be possible. That’s why I asked who is present,” Brooks responded. “If someone did not announce themselves, we would not know.”

“I would hate for someone to go out and restate something that they didn’t even announce that they was there. We need to find a record of how they are getting their information.”

“Is this pertaining to anything in particular? Like the newspapers or like there a reason why you actually asking this question,” Smith said, adding that he understands what Gomez was implying.

‘Why yes, I’m implying that because these meetings are public record. And if you are going to print, say or either repeat anything there has to be a trail to follow in which you got, you gain your information,” Gomez said.

“I can’t walk up on James Smith and record him secretly and then go back and say I recorded this secretly,” he continued. “That’s illegal to record secretly….The council president asked who is on the call an you remain silent, that’s pretty much like eavesdropping.”

“I think what he is talking about is there was a write-up in NorthEscambia, and I don’t recall the NorthEscambia individual saying that they were present,” Smith said. “…Is there are particular type of violation that is happening if you don’t announce yourself? We have no idea if you are present. ”

Smith continued, “When there’s something that governs newspapers or somebody’s that’s recording saying that we’ve said or repeating something they said that we’ve said. Then we are suppose to know that they’re present when they’re doing it.”

There was only one article published on NorthEscambia.com that mentioned Gomez or Smith following the last telephone conference call public council meeting. It involved comment from both council members stating that large groups of people were playing basketball in Century despite social distancing requirements. It’s the article that presumably Smith and Gomez had concerns about being recorded two weeks ago.

You can read that article here, and fact check their statements for yourself with these recordings:

It’s worth noting that every Century council meeting is recorded by town staff in addition to taking notes for official minutes. Those recordings are public record. Almost every other local government in the area streams their meetings online and then makes recordings available in order to have as much public transparency as possible with citizens.

But the sunshine law does not appear as bright in Century as elsewhere.

Editor’s note: Why did NorthEscambia.com not announce a reporter’s presence on the phone during the telephone conference call public council meeting? First, it’s clearly not required.  Secondly, we’ve been dialing into the meetings using an online telephone service on a laptop that allows the meetings to be recorded for accuracy in our reporting. The microphone is muted on the laptop to ensure a quality recording. Thirdly, no human was listening to most of the meeting in real time. We simply roll a recording to listen to later and be more efficient in our reporting. And finally, we fail to understand why a council member would care if the media was listening to a meeting. Unless there’s something they want to keep secret.

Comments

20 Responses to “Century Secrets? Two Council Members Object To NorthEscambia.com Listening To Public Meeting”

  1. David Huie Green on April 25th, 2020 1:36 am

    CONSIDERING:
    “It’s time to dissolve them as a city. Make it a county commission seat and elect a representative. Century and its citizens deserve better.”

    The good thing about democracies and republics is that you get to choose your leaders.
    The bad thing about democracies and republics is that you have nobody else to blame if you choose unwisely.
    You deserve what you give yourself.
    The rest of the county doesn’t deserve what Century might give us; we are unworthy.

    Population of Town of Century: 1,817 (in 2018)
    Population of Escambia County, Florida: 318,316 (in 2019) with 5 commissioners, 63,663 people per commissioner. Century — and a bunch more of us — are currently represented by Steven Barry.

    Nobody in his right mind is likely to give Century a second commissioner (although Henry should be interesting with the job). That would be more than 30 times the clout
    the rest of us have.

    David for equal representation, equal blame

  2. Stephen on April 22nd, 2020 4:51 pm

    Century just needs all new leadership. Those elected now are too corrupt for anybody’s good.

  3. sam on April 22nd, 2020 6:46 am

    Ditto on all the above comments. pitiful representation and it’s our fault for electing a majority of them.

  4. Mrs. Hudson on April 22nd, 2020 12:54 am

    I would love to see an article with accumulated data on exactly how many illegal activities , people arrested or accused by law enforcement or others in regards to the operations of the town of Century. I am not even 40 and I recall many times that Century representatives have be accused of foul play. This seems to be an ongoing travesty that us as Citizens have played the price for.

  5. Bob on April 21st, 2020 9:45 pm

    So if I go to a public meeting, I do NOT have to tell anyone who I am and I do not have to sign in with any kind of list, correct?

    I was planning on going to the meeting to get my personal interest free loan from the TOC without any paper work. I want to make sure no one knows who I am because I am going to get a lot of money (and free gas).

    So, I should be able to do this secretly just like members of the TOC board!!!

  6. David Huie Green on April 21st, 2020 5:01 pm

    REGARDING:
    “And finally, we fail to understand why a council member would care if the media was listening to a meeting. Unless there’s something they want to keep secret.”

    We nearly all say things which we don’t realize how silly, stupid, offensive, illegal, and/or even dishonest they sound until after we’ve said them. The difference is that if most of us say it, usually nobody cares, is listening, is recording, is going to report us to the people. We are not in places of public trust where lives, services, and fortunes hang in the balance. These poor devils know their words are apt to get them in trouble because they are in that place.

    We usually can’t get away with lying and then denying we ever said what was recorded from a dozen different angles and still have millions believe us when we do it again the next day — but practically nobody cares as long as we are not holding office and affecting the lives of others.

    Their dislike is reasonable. Even saying they hate to obey the law when speaking in an official capacity just drives the point home. They don’t yet realize they will have less trouble if they are just a bit more open yet careful of their words and honest about what they wish they hadn’t said. Bless their hearts.

    David for better people

  7. chris on April 21st, 2020 4:33 pm

    “Unless there’s something they want to keep secret.” William, you nailed it right there.

  8. Jay on April 21st, 2020 4:31 pm

    No offense but Century Council has continually embarrassed themselves and their citizens . Whether from blatant disregard or lack of rule knowledge. It’s time to dissolve them as a city. Make it a county commission seat and elect a representative. Century and its citizens deserve better.

  9. MWM on April 21st, 2020 3:50 pm

    You would think anyone in public office, especially in Century would know the sunshine law verbatim backwards and forwards.
    Interjecting ones personal opinion does not a law make. Such behavior has been the trail of tears in Century for many decades.
    Seems any citizen of the community with enough aptitude to assist in the problem is also smart enough to not get involved with such a mess.

  10. Jake on April 21st, 2020 3:01 pm

    Why in the hell are these councillors still in office. Century has been an absolute joke for years. Between the secret council meetings and the policies made without input from the people it makes me wonder why Century was ever incorporated to begin with. Gulf breeze hasn’t had any problems under the same contract. If Century cant handle itself it need to go back to the county. Seems like they’ve been doing pretty good. Escambia county could manage Century 100x better without breaking a sweat

  11. Christopher on April 21st, 2020 2:54 pm

    The Century town government is nothing but a joke, I feel embarrassed for the citizens of Century who have been and continue to watch their town pulled farther and farther down into a quagmire of human waste. The so called government of century should be impeached and replaced by a group of citizens who want nothing but the best for their town. For council members to question or suggest that ANY media outlet or citizen for that matter shouldn’t be allowed to listen in on a PUBLIC meeting is not only ridiculous, but against the law! I’m not sure how it can be done according to the town’s charter or rules, but it’s past time the citizens take back their town before it’s not even legally a town anymore. The two councilmen in this article should immediately be made to resign their seats without delay, they’re not fit to be in a position of authority.

  12. Oh Please on April 21st, 2020 1:45 pm

    Three words sum up the leadership in the kingdom of Century…. Dysfunctional …Ignorance…..Embarrassing. No wonder the folks on the South end of Escambia County look North and giggle.

  13. retired on April 21st, 2020 9:26 am

    @joel

    I agree totally.

    The only ones that need to announce there attendance are the council members!

    You can’t make loans or deals under the table IF THE PUBLIC KNOWS.

    VOTE’EM OUT

  14. Joel on April 21st, 2020 7:44 am

    Public meeting means public meeting. Pretty simple.

  15. tg on April 21st, 2020 7:24 am

    No sunshine in Century its been dark for years.Thats why its in trouble.

  16. Like President, Like Followers on April 21st, 2020 7:15 am

    The Council’s attitude toward the media should come as no surprise, especially when the supreme leader stokes the notion of the media being the enemy of the people (even when the founding fathers say otherwise in the first amendment).

  17. John Q Public on April 21st, 2020 6:20 am

    Sounds like big rulers from a small kingdom…

  18. Oversight on April 21st, 2020 5:28 am

    Will the State’s Attorney finally charge these Century clowns over their blatant disregard and violation of the public meeting’s sunshine law? And yes, Century, you got exactly what you voted for, a board of idiots.

  19. Matchbox on April 21st, 2020 4:58 am

    Do they not know anything about anything up there…sounds like they wanted to hide something..read up on your sunshine laws councilmembers

  20. A. Godwin on April 21st, 2020 3:19 am

    Secrets are no fun… when they’re shared with everyone. Century is full of issues and yet somehow they skate by. How can they even be incorporated at this point when they can’t even turn a profit.





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