May 1, 2012
The following is a message I sent to City Commissioner Carolyn Cooper on October24, 2011 concerning her reaction to draft minutes of the October 11, 2011 city commission meeting and the substance of her city wide email sent on October 9, 2011. There are over 3,500 email addresses on Ms. Cooper’s distribution list as provided to me under a public records request.
Here is what was offered in the draft minutes of the October 11, 2011 commission meeting that you conclude “accuses” you of a Sunshine law violation (prior to being modified in today’s meeting):
Mayor Bradley said he received several citizen comments stating that Commissioner Cooper sent out a newsletter saying she is in the minority on the State Office Building decision and asked how that could be when she voted in favor of it. Commissioner Cooper said she is generally in the minority these days with her being on the losing side of the 3-2 vote or when her motion fails. Mayor Bradley said for her to say that she is in the minority is very misleading and requested Attorney Brown to look at this specific topic of information that she sent out to see if there was a Sunshine Law violation. Commissioner Cooper said that would be fine. Mayor Bradley also recommended that she consult with Attorney Brown for guidance.
Here is the relevant portion of what you sent out to your email list on October 9, 2011:
Negotiations versus Justification
The Subject of your October 9 email, “Negotiation or Justification,” implies that you concluded the “negotiations” (using your quotation marks in your second paragraph) were a pretense and actually were being used as a means to justify approval of the draft contract included in the agenda packet for the October 11 meeting. Your statement, “Understanding that I am in the minority,” clearly indicates you had information about how other commissioners intended to vote on the agreement included in the agenda packet. Knowing they did not speak privately with you, the other commissioners could only presume that your statement is accusing them of having spoken together privately on this issue. Therefore, your statement, “Understanding that I am in the minority,” implies a Sunshine violation of some kind and can reasonably be interpreted by other commissioners as an accusation by you of a Sunshine violation on their part. This is why other commissioners questioned your writings during the October 11 meeting and did so rightly and publically. Put plainly, you were wrong.
Keep in mind that it appears extremely unlikely that any other member of the commission can send out emails refuting or commenting on your writings concerning official matters as this would be taken as a violation of the Sunshine law.
This from the Florida Sunshine Manual:
Written correspondence between board members
A commissioner may send a written report to other commissioners on a subject that will be discussed at a public meeting without violating the Sunshine Law, if prior to the meeting, there is no interaction related to the report among the commissioners and the report, which is subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act, is not being used as a substitute for action at a public meeting. AGO 89-23. And see AGO 01-20 (e-mail communication of factual background information from one council member to another is a public record but does not constitute a meeting subject to the Sunshine Law when it does not result in the exchange of council members’ comments or responses on subjects requiring council action). Cf. Inf. Op. to Kessler, November 14, 2007 (procedural rule requiring county commissioner to make a written request to commission chair to withdraw an item from the consent agenda does not violate the Sunshine Law).
Now, let’s think clearly about your performance at today’s commission meeting where you accused other members of the commission of assassinating your character and you claimed that the minutes as presented above “accused” you of a Sunshine violation. Your conclusions are unsupportable in context with the facts.
You sent out misleading and inflammatory emails to thousands of residents implying that you knew how other commissioners were going to vote and implied improper “negotiations.” The other commissioners could not publicly comment or rebut what you implied under Sunshine restrictions. Given these factual circumstances, you need to justify your claim that others are trying to assassinate your character and accuse you of Sunshine violations. The facts indicate the reality contrasts diametrically with your claims. The truth is that you fabricated and initiated the entire controversy you now so righteously defend and refuse to take responsibility for.
Another aspect of your behavior that warrants circumspection is that you are on record both in commission meetings and in your emails of being against disposing of the Denning property, period, yet you voted on both September 26, 2011 and October 11, 2011 to proceed with and continue the land swap negotiations that may lead to disposing of that land. Can you please justify this incongruity?
Finally, I ask you to consider your responsibility as a single member of the official governing body of Winter Park. Given that no other member of the commission is free to publicly comment on official city business discussed in your emails, you are denying the other commissioners the same platform you so relish to expound on issues you select (a necessarily incomplete list). By definition, your perspective is only one fifth of the perspective of our elected body. Accordingly, your emails do not improve public disclosure and discourse, but limit it and bias it in potentially dangerous ways. Looked at another way, you could not respond under the Sunshine restrictions if another commissioner sent emails discussing city business distributed to your email list before you were able to do so. Perhaps Mr. Brown should weigh in on this issue for the benefit of the entire commission.
Upon reflection, you might consider distributing an email to the people of Winter Park apologizing for the judgment errors in your prior emails and explaining the incongruity of your voting record on moving forward with land swap negotiations. While you are at it, you might also mention that in addition to resolving legitimate valuation issues, it is also very likely in the best long term interest of the city for the commission to fully explore the opportunity to bring a new high quality employer to our commercial core with as many as 200 jobs (Brasfield and Gorrie) as well as fulfill the regional office needs of CNL Bank, all in a new 80,000 square foot building to be added to the tax roles and to the list of Winter Park utility customers.
I look forward to reading your next email.
Regards, Pete Weldon