Santa Rosa County Commissioner Bob Cole has been charged with a non-criminal violation of Florida’s open government Sunshine Law, stemming from an incident at a Jan. 15 Downtown Redevelopment Advisory Board meeting in Milton.
The State Attorney’s Office is recommending Cole face the maximum $500 fine for the violation, said State Attorney Bill Eddins.
Prior to the start of the meeting, Cole and fellow DRAB member Elba Robertson discussed an item up for vote by the entire board, according to a news release from the State Attorney’s Office.
The discussion occurred outside of a public meeting and was therefore found to be in violation of the Sunshine Law, the release states.
Cole previously admitted that just before the meeting, he was asked by another board member — who he would not name at the time — if he intended to nominate Kim McCarthy to a vacant position on the DRAB.
Cole said he answered yes to the question “without thinking,” and there was no further discussion of the matter.
Eddins said his office has been reviewing the case since January, interviewing several witnesses and examining the Sunshine Law before reaching the decision.
Cole is scheduled to appear June 5 in Santa Rosa County Court before Judge Anthony Giraud.
If Cole disputes the charges, Eddins said a hearing will be held, where witnesses in the case will be presented.
“He has a right to deny the charges, dispute the charges and have a judge determine whether or not it in fact meets the criteria for the civil infraction that we’ve charged,” Eddins said.
The court can also set a fine amount of less than $500 if it sees fit, Eddins said.
No charges in the case have been filed against Robertson, who has since resigned from the DRAB and agreed not to serve on any Sunshine boards without additional training in the law.
Eddins said Robertson’s status as a non-elected volunteer, along with the resignation, contributed to Robertson not being charged.
“There were a number of factors to consider, but the fact that she was a volunteer rather than an elected official, unlike Bob Cole, was a significant factor,” Eddins said.
Robertson resigned from the DRAB in a letter dated Feb. 26, effective immediately.
Cole could not be reached for comment Thursday.