A city councilmember and local activist groups are raising concerns after a photo showing at least three city councilmembers sharing a table at the Volstead speakeasy-themed bar downtown was posted to Twitter.
They’re suggesting the meeting could be a violation of the state’s sunshine laws.
In late June, Darren White was enjoying an evening at the Volstead speak easy downtown when he noticed a group of city councilmembers sitting at a nearby table.
“It seemed odd to me,” said White.
He snapped two photos to document the unnoticed meeting.
White said he overheard some of the conversation between Councilman Rory Diamond, Nick Howland and Kevin Carrico.
“”I did hear them refer to Matt Carlucci and I heard them talk something related to procedure,” said White.
The meeting took place just two weeks after council shot down Councilman Carlucci’s resolution to appropriate half a million dollars for the removal of the city’s last two confederate monuments.
Carlucci told us he spent months working on the resolution, which was unceremoniously shot down without discussion when it came up for a final vote before the full council.
All three of the councilmembers photographed at the bar voted no on the measure.
“It seemed almost choreographed,” said Carlucci.
Carlucci said he can’t say for sure the demise of his bill and the speak easy meeting are related.
At the very least he argued the photos and White’s account of what was allegedly discussed harm public trust in the council and even the trust within council.
“The biggest asset a public official can have is trust and in that type of environment like that, when everybody is kind of leaning over and talking, that really is a bad perception of public trust and I think the public trust was violated,” said Carlucci.
After the photo was shared to Twitter, the Northside Coalition released a statement calling for the state attorney to investigate the meeting, alleging it violated Florida’s open records laws.
“This is a serious ethics violation involving trust, transparency and accountability,” said Coalition President Ben Frazier.
Carlucci told us he believes the state attorney should at least look into the matter.
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Tom Hall, an attorney who sits on the Florida First Amendment Foundation board of trustees, told us while councilmembers aren’t prohibited from socializing, there are limits on what they can discuss out of the public eye.
“If it’s foreseeable an issue would come before them, they’re not allowed to talk about it,” said Hall.
But Hall said in this case, with only a photo as evidence, it would be a difficult case to prove.
“I don’t think it looks necessarily great, but it certainly doesn’t of itself rise to some sort of violation of the law,” said Hall.
We did ask the state attorney’s office whether this incident was on its radar.
We didn’t hear back.
Nor did we hear back from Councilmember Carrico and Howland.
Councilmember Diamond told us he did not have a comment.