Four members of the Mexico Beach Planning and Zoning Board were removed from office by the City Council on November 22 following sunshine law violation charges from the state.
On November 16, the State of Florida filed a case against the Planning Board members in Bay County Court alleging the accused had met outside of the constraints imposed by Florida Statute.
“On or about August 28, 2022, in the County of Bay and State of Florida, Michele L. Miller, Jennifer P. Ward, John H. Harrell, and Florence L. Lindsay, who are members of the Mexico Beach Planning and Zoning Board, did knowingly violate Florida Sunshine Law by attending a meeting with other members of the Mexico Beach Planning and Zoning Board where issues that would foreseeably come before the Mexico Beach Planning and Zoning Board were discussed, and the meeting was not properly noticed, and where minutes of the meeting were not taken and promptly recorded, contrary to Florida Statute 286.011(3)(b),” the case filed with the court read.
An arraignment date has been set for all four defendants on Dec. 7 before Judge Shane Vann, where each will have the opportunity to make a plea.
None of the defendants have been convicted of their misdemeanor charges at this time.
At their regular meeting on November 22, the Mexico Beach City Council voted 3-2 to remove Miller, Lindsay, Harrell and Ward from their positions on the Planning and Zoning Board after the issue was raised by City Attorney Clinton McCahill.
“Last week, we became aware that four members of our P and Z Board were criminally charged with violating state sunshine laws,” McCahill told the commissioners. “The P and Z Board is a voluntary board and serves at the favor of the city council.”
“We could allow them to continue and let the court system figure it out,” he continued. “We could suspend them, but that would cause numerous problems with how the board is going to go forward, or you could remove them pursuant to section 757.001.”
City Councilor Richard Wolff stated that he felt the accused should be suspended from their posts, given that they had not yet been convicted of their crimes.
“There’s something there that’s being investigated,” he said. “I think a suspension would be more in line than anything.”
Council Member Adrian Welle was in agreement.
But the council ultimately voted to remove the accused, with councilors Jerry Smith, Bobby Pollock and Mayor Al Cathey ultimately achieving a majority vote.
“I think what’s best for the city is to maintain the functioning board,” said Cathey. “We have applicants that are sitting there willing to serve.”
The city had undergone processes of reviewing candidates for the board in October due to a vacancy, ultimately selecting Lee Ellezy.
Miller, Lindsay and Ward were all members of the board, and Harrell was the board’s first alternate, according to the City of Mexico Beach’s website. Lindsay is listed as the chairperson of the board.
Miller, who was present at the meeting, stepped up to the podium to announce her intent to resign from the board if not removed.
The council unanimously voted to appoint Craig Jerkins and Rock Kries to positions on the board in order to maintain its function and stated that they would address the need for alternates going forward.
This article has been updated from an earlier version to correct the spelling of a city councilman’s name.