State Attorney asked to review Laura Moss’s handling of public records

Laura Moss

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.

EndFragment

On May 6, 2017, at 7:37 PM, O’Connor, Jim <JOConnor@covb.org> wrote:

Mark

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 <editor.insidevero@gmail.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:

Mark

Just an update it may be wednesday when you hear from our counsel

From: Mark Schumann <editor.insidevero@gmail.com

Date: 5/7/17 6:35 PM (GMT-05:00)

To: “O’Connor, Jim” <JOConnor@covb.org>

Subject: Re: Public Records Request

Jim,

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?

Mark

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.

Sincerely,

Mark Schumann, Editor and Publisher

InsideVero.com

7 comments

  1. “Our system of government provides many checks and balances to ensure that no one individual can amass too much authority. One of those important checks allows a legislative body to impeach elected officials who may step outside their bounds. For city councils, they may occasionally be faced with mayor or alderman who continuously goes beyond their authority in taking actions on behalf of the city.”

    It is my humble opinion that Laura Moss does not represent in any way, shape or form the best interests of the City of Vero Beach and should be removed immediately.

  2. FPL spent $50,000 to support Moss in the most recent election. Just imaging how much they might be willing to “invest” protecting her from a recall election. Certainly, now that the utility giant owns three Council seats they don’t want to lose their majority.

  3. It looks like Mayor Moss is acting very much like the queen (her words) of Vero rather than mayor. Her “let them eat cake” attitude is not acceptable . She must be investigated , The queen has 50,000 reasons for her refusal to reveal information ,especially to Councilman Winger and Councilman Young.

  4. The last time I made a FOIA document request of a regional municipality, it took about 30- 40 days to get the information. It was sent via Drop Bix and it took days working with the sender for me to review. The fed takes years, just ask Judicial Watch.

    My guess would be that there is a time standard like – the entity can take a reasonable amount of time based on the nature and volume of the documents to fulfill the request.

    I would hope that responding to the request in a couple of weeks would not be illegal, no matter the circumstances.

  5. Susan, I don’t know what FOIA request you made, and I don’t know what municipality you made it of, but I can tell you that the City of Vero Beach, Indian River County, and the Town of Indian River Shores routinely respond to public records requests the same day, sometimes the next day, and certainly within a matter of days.

    The relevant points here are: 1). Laura Moss could have and should have forwarded the correspondence she received from the outside counsel to the City Clerk’s Office when she received it. Certainly when the documents became the subject of a public records request, Moss should have promptly forwarded them to the City Clerk’s Office. She did not. 2). Mayor Moss had previously claimed the information was “privilidged.” There is no legal basis for her claim, and she had no legal right to delay in forwarding the documents to the rightful custodian of the City’s public records. 3). City Manager Jim O’Connor confirmed in a email to me that the timing of the release for the documents was “at least in part” driven by when FPL planned to make public the terms of its proposed letter of intent to acquire Vero Electric.

    In response to a later public records request, Moss claimed that, with the exception of these three emails from the City’s outside counsel, she has never received at her personal email address any correspondence having to do with City business. It certainly seems that either she or the City’s outside counsel chose to use her personal email address, rather than her official COVB address, in order to keep these documents out of the public eye until such time as they and FPL were ready to make the information public. This is simply not their right.

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