ECUA Loses Appeal To Keep 2018 Grand Jury Report On Allegations A Secret

May 20, 2020

The Florida First District Court of Appeals has denied an Emerald Coast Utility Authority’s appeal to block the the release of a 2018 grand jury report.

The appeals court found that the report should be issued, along with five portions that were previously removed.

An Escambia County grand jury completed its review into complaints and allegations involving ECUA in July 2018. But that report was never released due to appeals filed by ECUA seeking to block it from becoming public.

A grand jury was convened and tasked with review of the operations, policies, and procedures of ECUA, specifically the grand jury investigation related to eminent domain proceedings, Florida public records and sunshine law, ECUA Board supervision, and delegation of authority.

Following its investigation and witness testimony, the grand jury concluded that criminal charges were not appropriate and returned a no true bill. However, because the grand jury was “deeply concerned” by the testimony it received, it issued the report. Under Florida law, individuals named in the report were given the opportunity to move to repress or expunge improper unlawful portions of the report.

ECUA Attorney Bradley S. Odom and other parties filed motions to repress. The state consented to remove several portions of the report prior to release, and a lower court entered a ruling on the remaining portions.

Odom raised three points on appeal, all of which were rejected by the appeals court:

  • He asserted that the state attorney does not possess the authority to respond to motions, repress or expunge grand jury reports; its role or duty in grand jury proceedings ends once the jury drafts its report.
  • He argued that the lower court  erred in not considering alleged breaches in confidentiality when determining whether to repress or expunge portions of the report.
  • He also argued that numerous additional portions of the grand jury report should be repressed or expunged because they either contain factual inaccuracies or are improper.

The State Attorney’s Office filed a cross-appeal and contended that the lower court erred in repressing five portions of the grand jury report:

  • The absence of term limits on ECUA board bembers has created a sense of complacency and has fostered an overreliance on the executive director and attorneys. An amendment to the special act of the legislature that created ECUA should be considered that would place term limits on board members.
  • Indemnity and hold harmless agreements should be in all easements unless specifically prohibited by law.
  • The State Attorney’s Office stated that they found Odom to be both unprofessional and unprepared, and made the findings because they are important and should be considered by the board in future decisions.
  • Recommended that the employment contract for the executive director be renegotiated every two years with no automatic renewal provision. The current contract has been in place since 2004
  • Directed that the State Attorney provide a copy of this report together with the opinion issued by the First District Court of Appeal to the Office of the Governor and the Florida Bar as well as the local legislative delegation.

First District Court of Appeal found in their ruling released Thursday that:

There was error in excluding the portions of the grand jury report as the statements are both lawful and proper. They emphasized the broad powers conveyed to grand juries. In making these statements, the grand jury did not exceed its lawful and proper function to “consider the actions of public bodies and officials in the use of public funds and report or present findings and recommendations as to practices, procedures, incompetency, inefficiency, mistakes and misconduct involving public offices and public monies.” There is a factual foundation in the grand jury report to support each of the above conclusions.

Accepted the state’s argument that any factual foundation, whether singular or otherwise, may be sufficient to support a comment in a grand jury report.

Statements made regarding Odom specifically were not improper given Odom was a witness and a subject of the investigation, and his legal services were paid using public funds. The fact that Odom is a private citizen is immaterial. Also, included in the grand jury’s broad powers is the power to conclude that a public official is not fit to continue in their position and recommend that actions be taken for their removal.

Comments

27 Responses to “ECUA Loses Appeal To Keep 2018 Grand Jury Report On Allegations A Secret”

  1. David Huie Green on May 25th, 2020 11:12 pm

    REGARDING:
    “why do they continue to hold their monthly meetings via telephone when all surrounding commissioners are meeting in their regular Board rooms?”

    Possibly because they don’t want to risk killing someone just to pretend COVID-19 is behind us. If physically needing to be together were essential, that might justify the risk. It isn’t needed. If they aren’t doing video conferencing, that is harder to justify.

    David for the considerate

  2. Just saying.. on May 24th, 2020 9:02 am

    If the Board isn’t hiding from this report, why do they continue to hold their monthly meetings via telephone when all surrounding commissioners are meeting in their regular Board rooms? Are they avoiding the public input? Definitely need term limits.

  3. Howie on May 22nd, 2020 5:43 pm

    Let’s read about Jarrell Lamar Reynolds and his stealing from ECUA.

    http://www.northescambia.com/2019/11/former-ecua-recycling-manager-charged-with-stealing-over-half-million

    Time to vote folks. Vote out the old and bring in some new.

  4. Big Boy on May 21st, 2020 11:07 am

    Maybe ECUA is voting on there budget like Century. Can’t read what you are voting on and approving it with no public comment. Who is taking lessons from who..People you need to Vote Vote Vote. The only way to fix the problem.

  5. Kristine on May 21st, 2020 9:25 am

    I’ve known Larry Walker for decades. I first met him in a landlord/tenant setting & throughout the years had meetings with him about large apartment community services. I’m not a spring chicken & consider my track record over the years to be great! Larry Walker has always been extremely professional, honest, & hard working. Anyone would have a hard time convincing me that Larry Walker is corrupt or involved in any type of corruption. If anything I could see Larry Walker trying his best to make things right before ever going along with any level of wrongdoing. I understand & believe We, The People should have transparency with ALL of these companies, so we can be in the know & keep these companies honest on ALL levels. At the end of the day, they do work for US!

  6. Lou on May 21st, 2020 7:37 am

    This article is not about bashing Dr. Walker. My past experience when I have called him concerning ECUA is responsive and transparent. This article is not about bashing Walker. ECUA is owned by us the citizens and I feel we are entitled to see the report. What is Odom wanting to hide. Release it! We can read and judge for ourselves. The more someone fights to hide it, the more I want to read it for myself. I can’t say there needs to be changes until I read what went on in 2018.

  7. Denbroc on May 21st, 2020 6:25 am

    “I find it incredible that it has taken this long for the State Attorney’s Office to release the report.” ~ Larry Walker

    Certainly you are not placing the blame for this delay on the State Attorney’s Office, are you?

  8. District 5 citizen on May 21st, 2020 4:09 am

    Folks, you better start paying attention when you read a statement such as this one made by Mr. Walker: “ECUA performance is not perfect—few people know its flaws better than I do–but there is no corruption or decadence at ECUA today.”

    In court, this would be labeled a “self serving statement.”

    Larry Walker is a prime example of why there should be term limits. How many terms did Larry serve at ECUA? 6? And then wanted to be a county commissioner too??

  9. MR REALITY on May 21st, 2020 1:24 am

    Larry..>DID YOU VOTE FOR A RATE INCREASE AND AN ADD ON OF ANOTHER FEE IN THE MOST RECENT ROUND OF “FEES”?

  10. Larry Walker on May 21st, 2020 12:32 am

    I am glad that the 2018 grand jury report has been released, at last. I have had nothing to do with the delay, nor has ECUA as an entity. As far as I know, the delay was due to standard judicial rules governing “responses” to a grand jury report–responses that must be considered by the judicial authorities before a report can be finalized. In this instance, four individuals filed responses. I was not one of the four. I find it incredible that it has taken this long for the State Attorney’s Office to release the report.
    Throughout my years at ECUA, I have stood for (a) transparency, (b) Board control of policy making, and (c) Board oversight of staff performance. I did so in this matter and I will always do so.
    This grand jury report is not the full story of ECUA. From a flawed beginning in 1981, ECUA has grown into a governmental body that is capable, financially sound, and responsive to the public, generally. It is capable of protecting and assisting the public in a time of coronavirus or of a major hurricane battering our county. During ECUA’s growth, I have never sat passively on the sidelines but have been an active fighter for good government. ECUA performance is not perfect—few people know its flaws better than I do–but there is no corruption or decadence at ECUA today.

  11. i know larry walker on May 21st, 2020 12:23 am

    I talked to Larry Walker one day about all the fees – he told me that our infrastructure is old and failing and needs all these fees and blah blah blah. So that’s why there’s a trash service fee? and a water fee(guess that pays for the new plant), and a waste water fee(this one pays for the failing infrastructure), and then a landfill fee. About half my bill is fees, no exaggeration. Get some new people in that have an incentive to actually do something about the problems and make a difference. All the hate for Century, we need more heat on ECUA.

  12. Willis on May 20th, 2020 9:40 pm

    Larry Walker has been good for some years but it’s time for new blood on ECUA Board.

  13. Tara on May 20th, 2020 5:53 pm

    My bill has gone up from $35 just 2 years ago to $50! It’s just me and my 10 year old. Im incredibly water conscious & we only do a few loads of laundry per week.

  14. Michael on May 20th, 2020 2:37 pm

    Its is time for some of these small water companies in Escambia County to be held accountable also, not just ECUA. You would be astonished if you knew the amount some of the employees are getting paid as well as the health benefits are unheard of.
    So what that means is WE are paying more than we should to operate these small member owned water companies. I am all for a decent wage and benefits however some of these are way out of line. The good old boy system is in place with some of these places for sure.

  15. J.Larry Seale on May 20th, 2020 1:31 pm

    Only rats and cook’s would have
    something to hid…….
    This may the beginning of “our watergate”
    here is Escambia county

  16. patti on May 20th, 2020 1:09 pm

    Don’t judge all these folks, the Lord will take care of the judging, It only takes one apple to spoil the whole.

  17. Getwhatyoudeserve on May 20th, 2020 1:07 pm
  18. ensley boy on May 20th, 2020 11:24 am

    See Century, Northescambia reports questionable behavior from ANY source that apparently has something to hide.

  19. Question for ECUA District 5 on May 20th, 2020 11:14 am

    Time to put board members on the record. Larry Walker, as a board member who represents the north end, where do you stand on releasing the grand jury information? Waiting.

  20. Big Boy on May 20th, 2020 10:52 am

    Sounds to me like the ECUA board is as corrupte as the leaders of Century. We need to change this in November. Out with the old and in with the new.

  21. tg on May 20th, 2020 10:35 am

    Why should a public company secrets. Not good.

  22. Oversight on May 20th, 2020 9:08 am

    There are five ECUA board members. Vote them out!

  23. retired on May 20th, 2020 8:57 am

    sounds like Century

    don’t want the people to know what they are doing

  24. See ya on May 20th, 2020 8:12 am

    Make it public… NOW!!! This utility needs exposing. It’s a money pit in many ways. Like Escambia Fire Rescue that was exposed last year…. ECUA needs the royal treatment also. Good ol’ Boys run that organization.

  25. StraightShooter white on May 20th, 2020 7:00 am

    I’ve said it before. ECUA has never had to answer to anyone. They have always been a self ruling entity and it is about time for once they don’t get their way.

  26. Denbro on May 20th, 2020 6:28 am

    How many more of the Public’s dollars did ECUA spend in trying to suppress this report of malfeasance? Sounds like a vicious circle. No wonder my bill went up 4%.

  27. MR REALITY on May 20th, 2020 5:36 am

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE GET THE REPORTS ASAP! We need to clean house down there.





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