Tallahassee Democrat by Jeff Burlew
February 1, 2019
Local businessman Erwin Jackson is appealing a judge’s ruling that the city of Tallahassee didn’t violate the Sunshine Law as it went about appointing a new commissioner to fill a vacancy left by the suspension of Scott Maddox.
After Maddox’s suspension, the city accepted applications for the post and eventually received 93. Commissioners individually and behind closed doors selected their top picks, which landed on a shortlist of nine finalists. Commissioners unanimously selected one of them, Elaine Bryant, during a public meeting on New Year’s Eve.
Two days later, Jackson sued, alleging the city broke the Sunshine Law by whittling down the applicant pool outside of a public meeting. Earlier this month, Leon Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled in favor of the city, which argued its process was open and transparent.
Jackson vowed to appeal. Earlier this week, he began the process at the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. In his initial brief, Jackson’s attorney, C.B. Upton of Tallahassee argued that when commissioners narrowed down the list of contenders, it was an official act that should have happened during a public meeting.
“Deciding which candidates to keep and which to reject for a public office is not just an official act, it is a quintessential government function,” Upton wrote. “The case law is clear that the public had a right to hear from the commissioners and provide comment at a public meeting before the commission narrowed the applicant pool to a small group of finalists.”
The stakes remain high in the legal battle between Jackson and the city. He is asking the appeals court to find the entire process and Bryant’s appointment null and void. If he prevails, it’s possible the appointment could be handed to Gov. Ron DeSantis to make because the city’s 20-day window to fill the vacancy has long since passed.