October 19, 2016 – Northwest Florida Daily News
by Annie Blanks
Fire Commissioners Rick Moore and Tommy Green have opted out of participating in a forum scheduled Thursday night for candidates for the Destin Fire Control District board of commissioners seats 2 and 4.
Moore and Green are incumbents. Their opponents, John Harvey and George Giganti, say they will participate in the forum.
In letters sent to the commissioners and posted on Facebook by Moore, fire district attorneys Michael Mattimore and Dawn Stuntz cited Moore’s and Green’s participation in ongoing collective bargaining negotiations and suggested they not attend the forum. Stuntz also cited “potential public perception of violations of the Sunshine Law” if Moore and Green were to participate.
Mattimore and Stuntz did not return requests for comment.
However, Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation and an expert in Sunshine Law, said that the incumbent commissioners’ participation in a forum would not be in violation of the law.
“There’s an attorney general opinion, AGO 92-05, that says participation by candidates for public office, including incumbents, in a public forum sponsored by a private organization is not a violation of the sunshine law,” Petersen said in an email to the Daily News.
The opinion on the Attorney General’s website continues to say that “the expression of an incumbent candidate’s position on a matter which may foreseeably come before a commission, absent an interchange between an attending commissioner, would not subject the meeting to the Sunshine Law.”
Forum moderator Steven Menchel said incumbents candidates for the Destin City Council have participated in forums but have chosen not to answer certain questions to adhere to the Sunshine Law.
“I have put on many, many forums,” Menchel said. “I put on a DFCD commissioners forum two years ago. I am very, very familiar with the Sunshine Law. I will not and do not ask any question that will violate the Sunshine Law.
“It just looks like an excuse not to participate,” he added. [READ MORE]