Two high-level city of Pensacola employees have been charged by the State Attorney’s Office with non-criminal infractions of the Florida public records law. City Administrator Bill Reynolds and Press Secretary Derek Cosson were charged following the state’s investigation that found the two had withheld information last year regarding the city’s new logo.
State Attorney Bill Eddins is charging Reynolds and Cosson as a result of their failure to provide former city councilwoman Diane Mack with copies of the new logos the Zimmerman Agency had designed for the city as well as the port, airport and Pensacola Energy (ESP). The state has determined that both were in possession of the logo at the time Mack made the request last summer.
“Based upon the failure of both Reynolds and Cosson to provide the requested information, or to make any effort to locate copies of the logos in the City’s possession, we have determined that it is appropriate to charge them with a non-criminal violation of the public records law,” the state attorney report states.
The report also noted that the State Attorney’s Office had received numerous complaints concerning the city of Pensacola and public records requests. It notes that inadequate resources are provided to the city clerk to respond to requests and that staff needs additional training in the area of public records law. The office said it would be monitoring the city going forward.
The state attorney report also addresses the release of exempt information. The investigation revealed that Reynolds had released information regarding a complaint made by an employee; the complaint concerned John Asmar, Mayor Ashton Hayward’s former chief of staff.
Apparently, the employee sent an email to the city’s human resources department raising the employment issues. The email was then sent to Reynolds and City Attorney Jim Messer. Though the city treated the e-mail as a discrimination complaint—viewing it as confidential and exempt from public records law—the information was later released on former city councilwoman Maren DeWeese’s blog.
“On March 5, 2013, Bill Reynolds gave a copy of this document together with a copy of his response to Maren DeWeese while at World of Beer,” the state attorney investigation found. “These documents were not provided pursuant to any public records request and were not solicited by Ms. DeWeese. The documents provided to Ms. DeWeese were in an envelope and unredacted in any way. Ms. DeWeese later published a redacted version of these documents on her blog.”
Because the complainant had not yet requested that the records remain confidential and except—she made the request two days later, on March 7—the state attorney concluded that the release did not constitute a crime. The report did note that Reynolds’ actions were “inappropriate.”