Tallahassee Democrat by Jeff Burlew
January 18, 2019
Tallahassee city commissioners won a major legal victory Friday in a Sunshine lawsuit filed over the way they filled a commission seat left vacant by the suspension of City Commissioner Scott Maddox.
Leon Circuit Judge John Cooper, in a bench ruling, said he didn’t believe the City Commission violated the open meetings law as it moved through the process of filling the vacancy. He added that even if there were a violation, the city fixed it when it convened a three-hour meeting on New Year’s Eve and appointed Elaine Bryant to the seat.
“I find that if there was a Sunshine Law infraction, which I don’t think there was … that there was a cure in the meeting on the 31st,” Cooper said.
Local businessman Erwin Jackson, who has long challenged City Hall with lawsuits and ethics complaints, sued the City Commission on Jan. 2, two days after Bryant was sworn in as commissioner. Jackson alleged the city broke the Sunshine Law when it whittled down a list of 93 applicants for the vacant post to nine finalists outside of a public meeting.
The stakes were high — had Jackson prevailed, it’s possible Bryant’s appointment would have been overturned and the responsibility to fill the vacancy handed to the governor. The city charter says commissioners must fill vacancies within 20 days or else the governor gets to do so.
After the hearing, Jackson told city attorneys he wanted to get to an appellate courtroom as fast as he can. He later confirmed he plans to appeal.
“Our plan is to work as quickly as possible to get this very important matter over to the 1st District Court of Appeal because someone has to stand up for the Florida Sunshine Law and the obvious violations we all witnessed here in the city of Tallahassee,” Jackson said.