Crestview Council charged with Sunshine Law violations
CRESTVIEW — All five members of the City Council have been charged with violating Florida’s Sun-shine Law.
The charges are considered “non-criminal violations” which, Councilman Phillip Berezo told the Crestview News Bulletin, amounted to being issued a “traffic ticket.”
Council President Charles Baugh and members Berezo, Benjamin Iannucci, Tim Grandberry and Robyn Helt will appear before County Judge Jim Ward on March 20.
Each faces a fine of up to $500 on a single count that states four emails they shared were determined to have “constituted a violation of the law,” according to a news release from the state attorney’s office.
State Attorney Bill Ed-dins said the violations, while considered “a serious matter,” indicated no corrupt intent on the part of the council members.
“It appeared to be a lack of education and an understanding of the rules,” he said. “I’m hopeful the council will obtain additional Sunshine Law training and not communicate by email in the future.”
Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille began investigating the City Council’s email history last September after more than 5,000 documents were released to three media outlets following a public records request.
Marcille said earlier this week new information in the case likely would delay its conclusion for a couple of weeks. After announcing his office’s findings Friday, Eddins said the new material “was not as difficult to review as we had anticipated.”
Alongside its investigation of the possible violations of Florida’s public meetings law, the state attorney’s office also investigated an allegation that Iannucci had deleted emails from his account.
To have deleted documents after a public re-cords request for them had been made would have been a separate violation.
“It was determined that insufficient evidence existed to establish a violation of the law,” in Iannucci’s case, the state attorney’s office said.
Neither Baugh nor Berezo returned phone calls Friday. Mark Welton, Helt’s attorney, commented on her behalf.
“While I still believe Robyn Helt has not violated the statute, I under-stand the position of the state attorney,” Welton said.
Cal Zethmayr a news-caster with Crestview’s WAAZ-FM/WJSB-AM, joined the Daily News in filing the public records request for council members’ emails. He later turned the emails over to the state attorney’s office.
Zethmayr expressed some frustration at the findings.
“I contend that when an elected official raises their right hand and swears to uphold the Constitution of the State of Florida and the City Charter, they should also know that our constitution includes the Florida Sunshine Law,” he said. “Didn’t we all grow up hearing the phrase ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse?’ ”