School board member jailed for failing to release records
FLORIDA–Escambia County school board member Vanette Webb spent seven days in jail in late May and was suspended indefinitely from her position by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for violating the state’s open records law.
County Judge Pat Kinsey in mid-May sentenced Webb to 11 months and 15 days in jail after a jury convicted the school board member of withholding public records from a parent who has been critical of Webb and of her politics. However, the judge suspended all but 30 days of the sentence. Kinsey also fined Webb the maximum $1,000 fine and $45 per month in probation costs and restitution to the school district for its expenses.
According to the Associated Press, Kinsey called the case “not merely a case about public records, but a case about abuse of power,” telling Webb she had used her power as a public official “to block a public opponent from reaching your records.”
County Judge William White, who took over the case, then freed Webb on a $2,000 bond pending her appeal, after she had spent seven days in the Escambia County Jail in Pensacola.
The same day Governor Bush suspended Webb indefinitely from office, and Judge White also suspended the rest of her sentence.
Bush’s order cites “misfeasance, malfeasance, and/or neglect of her duties” and prohibits Webb from performing any official act. If she does not resign, she could face a trial before the Florida Senate.
Webb refused to give up records she collected as a school board member beween March and December 1998 to Susan Watson of Pensacola, a mother who helps publish a newsletter critical of the “religious right,” according to the Press Journal of Vero Beach.
The state’s open records law requires officials to make records available within a reasonable amount of time under reasonable circumstances.
Webb is not the first Florida official to be suspended from office for violations of open government laws, but she is believed to be the first jailed for such offenses, according to several Florida newspapers. (Florida v. Webb; Prosecuting Attorney: Mike Rollo, Pensacola)