South Daytona vice mayor opens email list to avoid dispute

South Daytona vice mayor opens email list to avoid dispute

February 24, 2012 12:05 AM
SOUTH DAYTONA — Rather than test the Sunshine Law, Vice Mayor Nancy Long Thursday decided to release the names of the residents she sent a private “Happy Holidays” email to in December, which included her views on the potential purchase of Florida Power & Light’s electrical distribution system.

Take Back Our Power (TBOP) — a political action committee funded predominantly by FPL — wanted the opportunity to respond to those same residents, countering some of Long’s opinions. But the city declined to release the names, citing a similar case in Hallandale, Fla., as precedent.

Jon Kaney, a local attorney and First Amendment advocate, recently was hired by the committee. He said that differences existed in the content of the privately sent Hallandale and South Daytona letters, and that Long’s message dealt more with “city business.”

South Daytona City Attorney Scott Simpson said he wasn’t sure at first if the email sent from her home was a public record, so he contacted the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, which referred him to the Hallandale case.

“It was close to being on point, a little different,” Simpson said Thursday, and determined two weeks ago that the city wasn’t required to release the names.

But Long decided to end the legal debate Thursday over interpretation of the state’s public records law and voluntarily released the names.

“Although I do not believe TBOP is entitled to this information, I will not allow one single dime of taxpayer’s money to be spent on this matter,” she said in a statement. “It was never my intent to hide these names; I just wanted to protect the privacy of those individuals who may now be subject to scrutiny and harassment because of a simple greeting I sent out.”

Ray Lawrence, chairman of TBOP, said he wanted the names released back in December so his group immediately could respond to “inaccuracies” in Long’s email. But he said so much time has passed that responding now might not make sense.

“It’s so long ago, I don’t think there’s any point. I haven’t made up my mind yet,” Lawrence said. “The reason (Kaney) looked into it was they (city leaders) should have released the names … The city hasn’t been straightforward. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, but they’ve just been fighting us every step of the way.”

Take Back Our Power is racing to get a charter amendment on the August ballot so city voters can decide the electrical system’s fate. It recently delivered 1,230 signed petitions to the City Clerk’s office, more than the required 757 (or 10 percent) of those who voted in the last city election. They could go to the Volusia County Supervisor of Elections for review by next week.

Last month, the petitions were returned and revisions in the language were required that must inform voters that only one form can be signed and that their information is public.

After years of legal haggling, the City Council in July voted 4-1 to exercise the buyout provision from 2008 in its expired 30-year franchise agreement, considered the best in the state. FPL wanted that option removed in the new contract.

That led to Circuit Judge William Parsons setting the sale price at $15.5 million, which has been upheld by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The council voted 4-1 in November to approve two resolutions to finance the purchase.