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State Attorney: Cole Violated Sunshine Law

  Santa Rosa Commissioner Bob Cole is accused of a non-criminal violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law. 

The charge stems from Cole’s membership on the Milton Downtown Redevelopment Advisory Board, and an exchange in mid-January. State Attorney Bill Eddins says the discussion involved Cole and board member Elba Robertson.

“And that he discussed matters that were reasonably believed to come before that board with another board member,” said Eddins. “They involved whether or not he was going to nominate a particular person to become a member of the board.”

Robertson does not face charges in the case. A non-elected volunteer board member, she has resigned and has agreed not to serve on any panels covered by Sunshine without first undergoing training on the law.

While the case against Cole is a civil one rather than criminal, Eddins contends any violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law is serious business.

Sunshine Law charges were filed in 2013 against two members of Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s administration. One was fired, the other was demoted and eventually left city employment. That episode prompted Hayward to bring in the First Amendment Foundation to conduct employee training.

Barbara Peterson, President of the Tallahassee-based foundation, spoke at the Saenger Theater in August, 2013 on keeping open government open, in compliance with state law.

“Article I, Section 24-B of the Florida Constitution. We have both a statutory right and a constitutional right of access to the meetings of our government,” said Peterson.

If Commissioner Bob Cole enters a guilty plea, he faces a maximum $500 fine. State Attorney Bill Eddins says they will seek that amount, if Cole decides to agree to the civil citation.

Efforts to reach Commissioner Bob Cole were unsuccessful. He is scheduled to appear before Santa Rosa County Judge Anthony Giraud on June 5.