Did Hall and Valentino violate Sunshine Laws?

May 12, 2009

Did Councilman Sam Hall and Commissioner Gene Valentino violate Florida Sunshine Laws?

Hall and Valentino both serve on the Pensacola-Escambia Economic Development Commission (PEDC). Valentino is the chairman, Hall vice-chair.

According to Commissioner Valentino’s appointment calendar, the two met on Tuesday, April 28 at Pensacola City Hall. The appointment calendar has the meeting lasting from 2:30-4:00 p.m. City staff has confirmed that Councilman Hall reserved an office on the seventh floor of City Hall and the meeting was held with Commissioner Valentino.

IN reporter Sean Boone asked Hall last Thursday about the meeting.

“He and I met one time and it wasn’t on PEDC business, absolutely not. He and I have talked about disparaging economic development outside of PEDC.”

“I heard third hand somewhere he wanted to do away from the PEDC.”

“I don’t even know what (Gene Valentino’s economic plan) is. I’ve asked him two or three times to at least get a preview and he won’t do that. I’ve even asked him to share if PEDC is part of that plan and he wouldn’t even do that.”

We did learn on the same afternoon at approximately 3:30 p.m., Sam Hall called Charles Wood, senior vice president of economic development for the Pensacola Chamber. Hall conducted the conversation over a speaker phone, but Hall did not tell Wood who was in the room with him.

At some point during the conversation, Hall mentioned Commissioner Valentino and Wood made a few comments about Valentino.

According to sources inside City Hall, when Valentino left the meeting with Sam Hall, the commissioner was visibly upset.

Could it be that Valentino was in the room when Hall made the phone call? If he was, then it appears the pair broke the Florida Sunshine Law by meeting privately to discuss matters concerning a board on which the two elected officials serve.

Since Valentino won’t tell anyone his plan, we don’t know if PEDC is part of it.

Hall has denied that he was on a conference call with Charles Wood. Commissioner Valentino has not returned any phone calls. In fairness to Hall, Sean asked him if he and Valentino had a conference call with Wood. Since Valentino didn’t speak (assuming he was in the room), Hall may have not considered that a conference call.

A week after his meeting with Valentino, Councilman Hall posted on his blog: “Regarding economic development, I believe the Pensacola-Escambia Economic Development Commission (PEDC) is essential for any economic development plan. PEDC does not have to be the driver of economic development, but it needs to be plugged-in to help public-private endeavors, owing that it can issue bonds for development, it can transfer land easily for ED sites, and it has elected officials from the City of Pensacola, Escambia County, and the City of Century on its board.”

Why should this matter?
In September 2002, former Commissioner Terry Smith was convicted on two counts of violating the state Sunshine Law and was sentenced Sept. 18 to 250 hours of community service and $4,987 in fines. One of the counts concerned Smith and fellow Commissioner W.D. Childers calling Supervisor of Elections Bonnie Jones on a speaker phone to discuss voter redistricting sometime between January and April 2001. Childers and Smith were removed from office in May 2002, after the grand jury indictments.

At the Council Committee of Whole meeting on May 11, Sam Hall spoke to this issue in the council forum segment of the meeting.

Hall said, “I understand an individual has taken an interest in one of my recent meetings.”

He told the council that he had met recently with Commissioner Gene Valentino in City Hall, “rather than in some coffee shop.”

“While we did not discuss PEDC business, we did discuss economic development. I was curious as to his plan.” —which is a little different from he told IN earlier.

“I understand that even if we in fact did not violate sunshine law, there is still the appearance to be addressed.”

Hall went to say that he has met with Commissioner Valentino several times to discuss issues (Hall told IN that he had met only one time with Valentino). He also has met with Commissioner Robinson concerning 9th avenue issues “until we began serving on a Board together.” He met with Commissioner Young concerning downtown parking and shuttles for the Blue Angels show.

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  • Valentino/Hall Sunshine round-up July 2, 2009 at 10:07 am

    […] violation. The investigation centers on a meeting the two had on April 28. Rick Outzen and Co. have covered the details, so I won’t rehash them […]

  • AnonCG May 13, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Ok, I’ve been reading backwards catching up and now I’m beginning to get the agenda of all this stuff. Whether Rick, Perdido people, downtown crowd pals, etc. Ok, let’s get rid of the guy. He is our new devil apparently. Let’s add another person to a local seat whose idea of “economic development” is to give away free scholarships or utilities…or whatever the next fun idea is. Good luck. This is what we were striving for? A bunch of goofballs who haven’t ever been in the private sector and wouldn’t know an industry from a hockey stick? Heck, I’d rather the old wave of Gobs take back over than the new one (which are also Gob&girls…just more of a melting pot of power hungry elitists) we are apparently trying to put in power. At least the former actually had a chance of bringing something here even if they had to take a few $$$ for themselves.

    Is P-Key a big “IN” supporting crowd? I’m guessing so. I don’t see how I can find myself on the same side as a group of people who believe P-Key was their God given right to themselves above and beyond all Escambians (while also claiming they are protecting the environment from their 22nd floor condo). And I lived amongst these people for years, watching them build around me and each claiming they should be the last people to enjoy “paradise”. I’d rather just eat at Whataburger and discuss slimy plans to give that place a commercial makeover that attracts in-town people and tourists alike. It would be sweet to put a giant, 20-story roller coaster with blinking neon lights all the way up at the south end of Old River Road. Bring in 200,000 beach party goers and stomp on that arrogant group of elitists ’til they dive off their balconies on their own volition.

  • snoopy May 13, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    The only thing I fault Gene with, is thinking he can do any economic development in Escambia County as long as the same people control everything here. The haves do not want anything more. Been that way forever and will stay that way.

    The question I have about the Sunshine Law is, how can you even run your household without talking to you spouse about what is going on? I think the leaders should be able to meet to discuss things and then if they screw up, shoot them.

    If the State Attorney wants to investigate something, the should investigate what Bob McLaughlin does behind the Commissioners back. I bet he would find more there. Another reason to do away with the Sunshine Law, so that more than one Commissioner at a time could meet with citizens. It is hard, I’m sure, to run something as large as this County without being able to talk to each other.

    Just my opinion!!!!!!

    Rick, want to find something really interesting, get the Grand Jury report on Gordon Pike. You know the one McLaughlin tapped to be his Asst.

  • Escambia County Politics May 13, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Saw on the news tonight that the State Attorney is investigating the sunshine law violation. His guts may end up in the pokey!

  • KeepGoingSouth May 13, 2009 at 6:25 am

    At least GV is doing something for economic development. The past County Commissions and City Counsels and the Pensacola Chamber haven’t done a thing that even resembles Economic Development. While I agree that GV would be better served as a team player when the rest of the team is playing for them only then what are you supposed to do? At the very least he’s got the guts to buck the GOB system.

  • publius May 13, 2009 at 6:16 am

    anony, interestingly great leaders like dave murzin arent subject to the sunshine law. the state budget can literally be created by two guys in a room somewhere and there it is it’s done. which is why when some of the legislators get on their high horses about things, it’s total hypocrisy because they dont have to do everything– in fact, they dont have do just about anything– in the same fishbowl that the city and county do. do you think most of the local reps could get reelected once if they had to workin the sunshine? just think about wd– a great leader, even with his great flaws– and look what happened to him when he had to work in the sunshine. no one in the west florida delegation is at wd’s level. think about what would happen if they were subject to the sunshine. that’s why they dont apply the sunshine law to themselves. but they could if they wanted to.

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