2013 In Review: City Hall Shakes Up Over Public Records
There was a major shakeup in the Ashton Hayward administration in July, when two high-ranking officials were ousted over what was considered to be the mishandling of public records.
City Administrator Bill Reynolds and Press Secretary Derek Cosson were named in a report by Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille, regarding public records requests that were not filled in a timely manner – if at all.
One of the requests named in the probe was from former City Councilwoman Diane Mack. In June of 2012 Mack – who also runs an ad agency -- asked to see the new logos for the city’s “Upside of Florida” publicity campaign. She was told they were not available.
Investigators discovered that Reynolds and Cosson both had the documents – including the logo -- around the time of Mack’s request. At that point, Mayor Ashton Hayward fired Reynolds and re-assigned Cosson to the Information Technology Office.
Colleen Castille was named Interim Administrator, and was given the job permanently a few weeks later. Reynolds and Cosson faced non-criminal charges of failing to answer public records requests in a timely fashion. Cosson pleaded no contest and was fined 350 dollars. Reynolds fought the charge and was cleared by Escambia County Judge Thomas Johnson in September.
Reportedly, Reynolds spent about $10,000 in legal fees to avoid a maximum $500 fine.
The public records episode led to a seminar on Florida’s Sunshine Law at the Saenger Theatre in August, led by the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation. City employees were required to attend.
Since the Sunshine Law was passed in Florida in 1967, there’s only been one person jailed for its violation. Escambia County Commissioner W-D Childers was convicted that along with bribery in 2002, for his part in the Pensacola Soccer Complex land scandal.