No charges in Sunshine Law probe of Jacksonville City Council, but questionable communication uncovered

The Florida Times by Christopher Hong

February 12, 2019

State Attorney Melissa Nelson will not file charges against anyone on the Jacksonville City Council after closing a nearly yearlong investigation into potential violations of the Florida Sunshine Law, although investigators uncovered an alarming pattern of some council members having hundreds of private conversations on the phone.

The investigation began after a top member of Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration filed a complaint against one of the most vocal critics of the mayor’s office, Councilman Garrett Dennis. As investigators looked into the complaint, they found that Dennis and five other council members, including mayoral candidate Anna Brosche, frequently spoke on the phone with other council members, which they believed to be evidence of another potential violation of the Sunshine Law, which prohibits council members from discussing official business with each other outside public meetings.

All six council members denied to investigators any wrongdoing, and ultimately the investigation didn’t find evidence to prosecute anyone, according to a report released Monday by the State Attorney’s Office.

Still, the report was hardly a vindication for the subjects of the investigation, which also included Reginald Gaffney, Sam Newby and suspended Council members Katrina Brown and Reginald Brown, who are both awaiting trial on federal fraud charges.

“Common sense dictates that Council members do not spend 62 hours, 74 hours, and 38 hours on the phone with other Council members discussing simple scheduling matters or irregular personal matters,” according to the report.

In February 2018, Curry’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, met with investigators and shared a story he heard second-hand about what sounded to be a legally questionable meeting: Dennis had recently approached Councilman John Crescimbeni and handed him a business card with the names of council members handwritten on the back. Dennis said the card contained a list of votes Crescimbeni would receive if he were to challenge Councilman Aaron Bowman in that year’s council president election, according to the report.

Investigators were unable to prove Mousa’s allegation, as Crescimbeni told them the alleged meeting never happened.

The investigative report comes to light a little more than a month ahead of the city’s March 19 election. Brosche and Curry are locked in a bitter fight for the top seat in City Hall, and Brosche’s campaign issued a statement accusing Curry’s campaign of filing the complaint to discredit her.

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