August 4, 2016 – TC Palm
by Nicole Rodriguez
District 4 incumbent Councilman Ron Bowen faces an uphill battle to keep his seat if his past run-in with the Sunshine Law is fresh in the minds of voters, experts say.
Bowen in November 2013 was charged with, but not convicted of, a second-degree criminal misdemeanor for allegedly violating the state’s Sunshine Law, which prohibits elected officials from discussing city business privately among each other.
Bowen was accused of using then-City Attorney Roger Orr as an intermediary to discuss issues about then-City Manager Greg Oravec. Bowen subsequently pleaded no contest to a lesser civil infraction in exchange for taking responsibility for his actions.
Bowen’s lone opponent, Jolien Caraballo filled his seat for nearly five months while he served a suspension handed down by Gov. Rick Scott.
Violations of public trust and laws to ensure open government tend to stick with voters regardless of how long ago they happened, said Barbara Peterson [sic], president of the First Amendment Foundation of Florida.
“In general, citizens and voters take these issues very, very seriously,” Peterson said. “The whole purpose of our open government laws are to allow us an opportunity for oversight of our government officials and to hold those people accountable for their actions.”
Potentially further complicating Bowen’s campaign is a pending lawsuit he filed in 2014 against the city for reimbursement for nearly $25,000 in legal fees stemming from the case.
Bowen refused to say if he’d drop the suit.
“A legal situation shouldn’t be talked about at this point, to be honest with you,” Bowen said. “I have a legal issue with the city, but as far as talking about it, I don’t think that anybody is at liberty to talk about it.”
Peterson can’t say for sure if the suit will stifle Bowen’s chances of winning in the primary on Aug. 30, she said.
The City Council rejected Bowen’s request taxpayers foot the bill for his legal costs because he wasn’t cleared, it said.
“I can’t say because I don’t know the (councilman),” Peterson said. ” … He might have a stellar reputation for everything but Sunshine that could sway somebody.”
For her part, Caraballo steered clear of speculating on how the past charge and pending lawsuit will affect voters at the polls.
“I believe in always doing things ethically and I have always run my ship, so to say, even in a business sense, ethically, honestly and transparent,” Caraballo said.
Caraballo, if elected, plans to avoid the shade, too, just as she did while filling in for Bowen nearly two years ago, she said. [READ MORE]