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County commission chairman jailed for violating Sunshine Law

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County commission chairman jailed for violating Sunshine Law

  • The former president of the Florida senate was sentenced to 60 days for discussing county business during a phone conversation.

May 16, 2003 — For the first time in the Sunshine State’s history, a public official has jailed for violating Florida’s open-meetings law.

Escambia County commission chairman W.D. Childers, a former Florida Senate president, was sentenced to 60 days in jail May 12 for violating Florida’s open-meetings law when he discussed redistricting plans during a telephone call with the Escambia county election supervisor. Florida’s Sunshine Law is considered to be one of the strictest in the United States. He began serving his sentence on May 13.

Childers was fined $500 and must pay $3600 in court costs.

Childers, who became chairman of the County Board of Commissioners in 2000 after being forced out of the senate by term limits, also pleaded guilty to discussing construction projects with two other county commissioners in private.

“It really was an exercise of raw power for the sake of exercising raw power,” Judge T. Patterson Maney said during Childers’ court appearance, according to a May 13 report by the Associated Press.

“I’m pleased that the prosecutor and judge took this so seriously,” said Barbara Petersen, president of Florida First Amendment Foundation. He was a “senator for 30 years and he should have known better.”

“The mayor of Orlando recently had a meeting with newly elected local politicians and the first thing he did was show the headline” of Childers’ conviction, Petersen said.

Childers will leave the jail today to visit a courtroom in nearby Okaloosa County, the St. Petersburg Times reported, where he will be sentenced on felony bribery charges. He reportedly could face a decade in prison and a $1.1-million fine on those charges.


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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