State Attorney: Escambia commissioners didn’t violate Sunshine with closed meeting

Despite a complaint filed by Sheriff David Morgan’s office, Escambia County commissioners didn’t violate Florida’s Sunshine Law when they held a closed-door meeting in October, the State Attorney’s Office announced Thursday.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan. (Special to The Pulse)

Gerald Champagne, attorney for the Sheriff’s Office,  had filed a complaint last month alleging that commissioners broke state law by holding a so-called “shade” meeting on Oct. 23. Florida law generally requires that all meetings of government bodies be held in public — “in the Sunshine” — but allows officials to hold closed-door sessions to discuss pending litigation with legal counsel.

But Champagne argued that the Oct. 23 shade meeting was held to discuss commissioners’ response to Sheriff Morgan’s appeal to Gov. Rick Scott over the budget passed by the commission earlier this year. Morgan has said that the budget doesn’t give him enough money to address pay compression issues within his department, something he says is causing him to lose deputies faster than he can replace him.

While the budget dispute is contentious, it doesn’t currently involve formal litigation, the Sheriff’s Office argued in its complaint to the State Attorney. Champagne also cited the county’s refusal to release a transcript of the closed-door meeting, calling it a violation of Florida’s public records law.

But the State Attorney’s Office took a different view, announcing Thursday that no violation of either statute had taken place.

“It is clear that the Board of County Commissioners complied with all requirements regarding notice and only those persons allowed by law attended the attorney-client meeting,” wrote Assistant State Attorney Gregory Marcille. “Additionally, no violations of the Florida Public Records law was committed. The private session was recorded by an official court reporter as required by law. This transcript may be kept confidential until such time as the litigation is concluded.”

The State Attorney’s office will take no further action regarding the Sheriff’s complaint, Marcille said.

Read the entire letter from the State Attorney’s Office: