For a full ten days in advance of the release of Florida Power and Light’s letter of intent to acquire Vero Electric, Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss kept in her private possession a draft of the document. On May 1, Moss received the draft in an email from the City’s outside utility counsel with the law firm of Carlton Fields.
Rather than sending the correspondence to Moss’s official City of Vero Beach email address, the outside counsel instead directed it to the Mayor’s private email address. Despite the fact that the documents in Moss’s possession should have been immediately forwarded to the City Clerk’s Office and made a part of the public records, Moss withheld the information until the afternoon of May 10. Without question the documents in Moss’s possession were the legitimate subject of public records requests made by Brian Heady, InsideVero and the Press Journal on May 2, May 6 and May 8,
Today, in an email to Assistant State Attorney Chris Taylor, InsideVero editor and publisher Mark Schumann set forth the reasons why he believes Moss should be investigated for a possible violation of Florida’s open records laws. The following is the full text of Schumann’s letter to Taylor.
Dear Mr. Taylor,
I am writing you to raise concerns about what may well be a failure on the part of Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss to comply with provisions in Florida’s open government laws requiring the release of public records.
As you may be aware, Vero Beach is again in discussions with Florida Power and Light regarding a possible sale of the City’s electric utility. The law firm of Carlton Fields has been hired to represent the City in its discussions and negotiations with FPL as well as with other parties to the deal, including the Orlando Utilities Commission and the Florida Municipal Power Agency.
According to statements made by Mayor Moss during City Council meetings, leading up to FPL’s public disclosure on May 10 of the terms of its letter of intent to acquire Vero Electric, she and members of City Staff, presumably City Manager Jim O’Connor, were in discussions with the City’s outside counsel at Carlton Fields and with representatives of FPL. Documents released by the City Clerk’s office May 10 confirm that Mayor Moss was in communication with attorneys with Carlton Fiends. In addition to any telephone conversation that may have taken place, Mayor Moss received written correspondence from Carlton Fields on May 1, May 3, and May 8.
Given Mayor Moss’s public assertion on May 2 that the documents in her possession were “privileged information,” and given that she received these records at her personal email address, it appears to have been her intention to withhold the documents from the public until such time as it suited her and her counterparts at FPL. Certainly the documents in Mayor Moss’s possession on May 1, specifically a draft of FPL’s proposed letter of intent, could have been provided to Brian Heady when he made his public records request during the May 2 Council meeting. However, at that point Mayor Moss had not forwarded the documents and related written correspondence to the City Clerk’s Office. In fact, according the City Clerk Tammy Moss did not provide the documents to her office until the afternoon of May 10.
During a televised City Council meeting on May 2, Vero Beach resident Brian Heady made a verbal public records request of the City Clerk. The documents Mayor Moss received at her personal email account on May 1 would have been responsive to Mr. Heady’s request. At the time, Mayor Moss insisted any such records were “privileged information.” Below is the exchange which took place between Mayor Moss and Mr. Heady at 1:20 p.m. on May 2 during the City Council meeting. Note that as Mr. Heady made his public records request of the City Clerk, Mayor Moss had him removed from Council Chambers.
1:20 p.m., May 2, Vero Beach City Council meeting:
Brian Heady: “What City staff has been involved in this deal?”
Laura Moss: “That is as far as I am gong to go on it at this point. Look, I’m not going to jeopardize this deal.”
Brian Heady: “Mr. Winger continues to point out there are no specific numbers, yet the mayor says that she’s worked on a deal and that City Staff has been involved in the deal, and your lawyer has asked for a week’s extension. Am I correct here so far?”
Laura Moss: Carlton Fields has requested an extra week to perform due diligence.
Brian Heady: Due diligence. Ok, cool. Now here’s my request. What are they doing due diligence on?
Laura Moss: It’s privileged information at this point.
Brian Heady: If there is due diligence being done, then I request the public record of what you are doing due diligence on.”
Laura Moss: Thank you sir.
Brian Heady: I am entitled to see that. Madam Mayor, who do I ask?
Laura Moss: See the City Clerk.
Brian Heady: City Clerk, do you have any public record that the mayor has referred to…
At this point, Mayor Moss had Mr. Heady removed from Council chambers.
On Saturday, May 6 I submitted a similar public records request to Mr. Heady’s. What followed over the weekend was an email exchange between myself and Jim O’Conor. Mr. O’Connor confirmed that he had been in discussions on the proposed sale but was not in possession of any records responsive to my public records request, or to the request made earlier by Mr. Heady. In a followup email, Mr. C’Connor indicated I would hear the following Monday from the City’s outside counsel regarding any documents they may have had. The following day, Mr. O’Connor wrote to inform me that I would likely not hear from the outside counsel at Carlton Fields until Wednesday, May 10. That just happened to be the day when FPL planned to make public the terms of its letter of intent. I responded to Mr. O’Connor asking if the timing of the release of public records in possession of the City’s outside counsel had anything to do with the timing of the release of FPL’s letter of intent. He replied, “In part that is right…” That full email exchange appears below. Please keep in mind that all this time Mayor Moss was in possession of documents she received at her personal email address on May 1 and May 3, yet she had not turned these public records over to the City Clerk’s Office.
On May 6, 2017, at 7:37 PM, O’Connor, Jim <JOConnor@covb.org> wrote:
I believe you will hear from outside counsel on monday what documents they may have. I was speaking on documents that I have been given.
From: Mark Schumann <email@example.com>
Date: 5/6/17 10:51 PM (GMT-05:00)
To: “O’Connor, Jim” <JOConnor@covb.org>
Subject: Re: Public Records Request
Thanks, Jim. I appreciate your getting back with me.
On May 7, 2017, at 4:26 PM, O’Connor, Jim <JOConnor@covb.org> wrote:
Just an update it may be wednesday when you hear from our counsel
From: Mark Schumann <firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: 5/7/17 6:35 PM (GMT-05:00)
To: “O’Connor, Jim” <JOConnor@covb.org>
Subject: Re: Public Records Request
Understood. Does this have to do with the timing of when FPL’s letter of intent will supposedly be posted as a part of the agenda packed for the May 16 meeting?
Sent from my iPhone
On May 7, 2017, at 5:35 PM, O’Connor, Jim <JOConnor@covb.org> wrote:
In part that is right but you should recieve the back up to final document.
Sent from my Sprint Samsung Galaxy S7.
Mr. Carter, I believe the facts presenter here warrant an investigation by your office into Mayor Moss’s handling of public records. If, as acknowledged on May 7 by Jim O’Connor, the timing of the release of public records was determined by political considerations, then the City failed to fulfill its responsibly to provide timely release of public records. In this case, Mayor Moss had no right to claim the documents in her possession were “privileged information,” and certainly she had no right to conduct the public’s business in secret. I thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.
Mark Schumann, Editor and Publisher