Group will hold teleconference to discuss deliberations that were closed to public, avoid controversy
One of the search committee chairmen decided Tuesday those deliberations would be repeated, this time in public, to avoid any controversy.
Third Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Siegmeister said he believes the search committee had a legal right to exclude a Times-Union reporter from deliberations. The deliberations came after four candidates were interviewed Monday.
The group’s final recommendations will be submitted to Gov. Rick Scott, who will name the chief medical examiner.
After the search committee’s legal counsel said the deliberations should be held in the open, Siegmeister said he will schedule another meeting to reconstruct the deliberations.
Seigmeister and State Attorney Angela Corey on Monday led the search committee as it questioned four candidates competing to be chief medical examiner, which comes with a six-figure salary paid by the city of Jacksonville.
After the fourth interview ended, Corey told a Times-Union reporter — the only member of the public present for interviews with the four candidates — to leave the meeting. Holding a meeting closed to the public could violate state law.
Corey would not say why the reporter had to leave or how the meeting was exempt from state open meetings laws. She told the reporter to call the state Medical Examiners Commission attorney to find out why the reporter was being kicked out.
In its secret deliberation, the committee ranked three of the candidates and excluded a fourth.
Thomas R. Beaver, currently chief forensic pathologist in Oakland, Calif., and the former chief medical examiner in Volusia County, was the top pick.
Current chief medical examiner Valerie Rao was the second-place pick, tied with Michael Hunter, a chief medical examiner in the Florida Panhandle.
Rao has faced criticism in previous jobs, and a year ago, the city’s chief administrative officer sent a letter to Scott about concerns that Rao created a hostile work environment. Last fall, when she was recommended for re-appointment, Scott asked that the search committee find more names.
Corey did not return e-mails Monday. Multiple records requests of the State Attorney’s Office on Monday and Tuesday also went unanswered, including a request for a copy of the current draft of Monday’s meeting minutes.
Corey’s spokeswoman, Jackelyn Barnard, told a reporter to speak with Siegmeister instead.
James Martin, the commission attorney, sent Corey and others an e-mail Tuesday morning explaining that in his opinion, “deliberations should be open to the public.”
Martin cited a case that seemed to contradict another case, Siegmeister said. Because the search committee can’t hire anyone and can only send recommendations to the governor, Siegmeister said, it shouldn’t have to hold its deliberations in public.
First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said the committee should hold a “cure meeting … at which the committee, to the best of its ability, recreates the discussion” from the initial meeting.
Martin wouldn’t offer his legal opinion on whether another meeting would be necessary if the committee met and made a decision hidden from the public.
Siegmeister said he’d rather just re-host the deliberations, probably by telephone this time, than argue. “I concede that it’s become an issue,” he said, “and I’d rather cure it for the public’s benefit.”
The initial reason to decide the new chief in secret, he said, was so committee members could have a more forthcoming discussion about who to recommend.
Siegmeister said staff at Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which oversees the Medical Examiners Commission, told him the deliberations didn’t need to be public.
Before conducting the secret meeting, Corey called Martin on speakerphone for legal advice on whether the committee could meet in secret. Martin said he was unsure and would need to look into the subject, understanding the committee would wait for his legal opinion before deliberating.
Martin seemed in a rush to get off the phone, Siegmeister said, and nothing the attorney said gave him concern about removing a reporter from the meeting.
Siegmeister said he was the one who made the decision to hold the meeting in secret, and he still believes it was legal to do.
Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper, Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler, Jacksonville Beach Police Chief Pat Dooley, assistant public defender Refik Eler, City Council Members Denise Lee and Robin Lumb, funeral director Jody Brandenburg, UF Health Dr. Joseph Tepas III, medical examiner Stephen Nelson and state attorneys Siegmeister and Corey were all part of the committee that met behind closed doors.