Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley has issued a letter remonstrating members of the Jacksonville City Council who held a private meeting Aug. 15 to discuss police pay.
In short, he said there was reasonable belief a violation of the Freedom of Information Act had occurred in the unannounced private meeting of three council members, as reported by the Leader newspaper. He urged them to familiarize themselves with the law and said future violations “will not be greeted with leniency by this office.” The letter:
The Leader’s reporting suggests a clear violationiof the state Freedom of Information Act, which requires notice of meetings of city councils and public meetings except for specific exceptions. The reporting suggests there was some awareness they were up to no good.
City Council Member Tara Smith organized the meeting, which was also attended by Council Members Gary Sipes and Mary Twitty, as well as Police Captains Kelley Smiley, Kim Lett and Joseph McCullough. The group convened in the mayor’s conference room about 45 minutes before another meeting – which had been disclosed to the media – was held to discuss the city’s fireworks laws.
Smith apologized for holding the meeting, which she asked Smiley to attend “on the down low.” She has pledged to familiarize herself with FOIA standards and always alert the media about meetings.
Council Member Terry Sansing showed up a little early for the fireworks meeting and realized the rest of the group had been there for quite a while. He was livid and confronted the group.
He said they denied they were having a meeting. Now, though, Smith admits it was a meeting to discuss a long-stalled effort to increase pay and benefits for Jacksonville police officers — a worthy pursuit that should have been explored in open meetings with people who could contribute a variety of perspectives.
A couple of days later after the meeting, Smith asked City Attorney Stephanie Friedman to draw up a proposed ordinance that would provide $800,000 to boost police salaries.
That proposal is now dead since it was hatched in a secret meeting that was intended to exclude not just the public, but also the other elected members of the city council.
The Leader reported Sept. 4 that Sipes, a former police chief, had told Jegley about the meeting. Sipes said he didn’t expect anyone to be prosecuted, “but that might not be the end of it.” Thus, today’s letter.