Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Grand Jury to Shine Light on City Council; It Will Look into Whether Council Members Violated the State's Sunshine Law

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Grand Jury to Shine Light on City Council; It Will Look into Whether Council Members Violated the State's Sunshine Law

Article excerpt

Byline: BETH KORMANIK

A grand jury decided Thursday to investigate whether the Jacksonville City Council violated Florida's open meetings laws, State Attorney Harry Shorstein announced.

The grand jury will look into the conduct of nine current council members and 10 former members, most of whom left office last month because of term limits.

"These are allegations of continual violations of the Government-in-the-Sunshine Law," Shorstein said.

But he added that the grand jury is not limited to open meetings issues and could increase the scope of the investigation if it is discovered that secret meetings led to personal gain for a council member.

Shorstein's office will now begin gathering documents and arranging for witnesses to testify.

He said he would ask current and former council members as well as council staff to appear voluntarily but will issue subpoenas if necessary.

A Times-Union report uncovered a deeply flawed system last month of public notification, dozens of meetings about public business held without public notice or written minutes and several that took place in private locations, a violation of the city's ethics code.

Council members have claimed the meetings listed on their calendars were purely social, dealt with topics that did not relate to city business or simply never happened.

But since then, many have hired attorneys to represent them.

"I'm going to respect the decision of the grand jury and Mr. Shorstein and plan on cooperating with his office as fully as possible," council President Daniel Davis said Thursday.

Council Vice President Ronnie Fussell did not return calls made to his cell phone and council office.

Councilwoman Glorious Johnson said she would appear voluntarily.

"Why not?" she said. "The state attorney calls you in, you need to speak."

The grand jury has four months to complete the investigation and can request a 90-day extension. An investigation could result in indictments, a report of its findings and recommendations or nothing at all.

Sunshine Law violations can carry up to 60 days in jail or fines of up to $500. …

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