Mayor Hayward reluctantly releases complete list of who worked in his office

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward initially refused to release to Inweekly a complete list of the employees who have worked in his office since Oct. 1, 2011. Only after the newspaper filed an official complaint with the State Attorney’s Office did his Sunshine Center release the information.

Last week, the newspaper requested the names of employees included in the General Fund account – DEPARTMENT – 0001 – MAYOR’S OFFICE , Account 9111 Salaries for FY 2011, FY 2012, FY 2013, FY 2014, FY 2015 and as of June 30, 2016 for FY 2016.

Mayor Hayward’s Sunshine Center released the list, but redacted four names. The explanation given was:

Florida Statute 119.07(1) permits the inspection and copying of public records by any person, subject to statutory exemptions. If the custodian of public records asserts that an exemption applies, he must state the statutory basis of the exemption. Florida Statute 119.07(1)(e). Upon request by the person seeking to inspect or copy the record, the custodian of public records shall state in writing and with particularity the reasons why the record is exempt or confidential. As required by Florida Statute 119.07(1)(f), please find the reasons, with particularity, for the conclusion that the record is confidential and exempt.

The Florida Retirement System Act is found in Chapter 121, Florida Retirement System, of Title X, Public Officers, Employees, and Records. The statute contains a confidentiality provision which states that:

(t)he names and addresses of retirees are confidential and exempt from the provisions of s.119.07(1) to the extent that no state or local governmental agency may provide the names or addresses of such persons in aggregate, compiled, or list form to any person except to a public agency engaged in official business. However, a state or local government agency may provide the names and addresses of retirees from that agency to a bargaining agent as defined in s.447.203(12) or to a retiree organization for official business use. Lists of names or addresses of retirees may be exchanged by public agencies, but such lists shall not be provided to, or open for inspection by, the public. Any person may view or copy any individual’s retirement records at the Department of Management Services, one record at a time, or may obtain information by a separate written request for a named individual for which information is desired.

Florida Statute 121.031(5). Please see the attached statute. Thus, under this section, the names and addresses of retirees are confidential and exempt from the public disclosure requirement of § 119.07(1).

The applicable definition of “retiree” is found in Florida Statute 121.021(60). Specifically, a “retiree” is a former member of the Florida Retirement System or an existing system who has terminated employment and is receiving benefit payments from the system in which he or she was a member. Please see attached statute.

The information for which the exemption under § 121.031(5) is asserted is of four individuals who are retirees, as defined by § 121.021(60). The four individuals were members of either the Florida Retirement System or another existing system. Additionally, the four individuals each terminated his or her employment and began receiving retirement benefit payments from the system in which he or she was a member. As such, the individuals are retirees, and their names and addresses are confidential and exempt from public disclosure in aggregate, compilation, or list form. Because your request included the names of retirees in list form, the record is subject to the exemption provided for under § 121.031(5).

Inweekly asked Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, for her opinion. When former City Administrator Bill Reynolds and former Mayor Press Secretary Derek Cosson were charged in July 2013 with mishandling public record requests, Petersen was asked to put on a mandatory training session of all city employees about the state’s Sunshine law.

Peterson told the newspaper, “Okay, I’m confused. If those four employees are retired, then why are they included in the general fund account?”

She continued, “And I agree, I don’t think the retirement exemption applies. It’s my understanding that that exemption applies to lists of retirees in aggregate or list form; to simply include the names of four employees who happen to have retired while not designating them as retirees doesn’t trigger the exemption.”

Inweekly filed an official complaint with the State Attorney’s Office. Chief Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille called late Wednesday afternoon to say that Rusty Wells, special assistant to City Administrator Eric Olson, and City Attorney Lysia Bowling were meeting to discuss the request.

Eventually the City of Pensacola released the names. The four employees that had been redacted from the list were Al Coby, William “Rusty” Wells, Janet Brown, and Donna Harris.

Part of the issue is the high turnover in City Hall. Mayor Hayward has had three Public Record Coordinators in the past two years: Jane Ballard, Maxwell Branham and Matt Schaud. Prior to 2013, City Clerk Ericka Burnett handled all public record requests for over a decade with few problems, until Reynolds and Cosson interfered.

Inweekly is still waiting for Mayor Hayward to release the city’s DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Program) database.

Stay tuned. This won’t be pretty for the mayor’s ‘Sunshine Center.’