The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is looking into whether Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks secretly recorded two county officials on the periphery of a Flagler County Canvassing Board meeting last month. It is not an investigation.
But it is the first step toward one, should an investigation into potential law-breaking be warranted. The county administration said last week that it was considering pursuing the matter legally but had not yet decided. The county did not prompt FDLE’s inquiry, which is taking place on the heels of County Commission Chairman George Hanns’s withering criticism of Weeks’s methods and his raising questions about the integrity of the elections Weeks is supervising.
“FDLE he received a complaint and the newspaper report alleging that the canvassing board either held meetings that were not open to the public or the folks were recorded illegally,” Gretl Plessinger, an FDLE spokesperson, said today. “As we do anytime we get an allegation like this, we do an initial assessment or a review of the complaint. A couple of different things can happen to a review. If it looks like criminal activity may have occurred we would turn it into a full-fledged investigation and conduct an investigation. If not, if it looks like maybe it was an administrative issue and no laws were broken, then we would turn it back over to the complainant or the agency in charge for review.”
The issue revolves around a recording that Weeks herself revealed at a Canvassing Board meeting on Sept. 12. Weeks had made the recording of County Attorney Al Hadeed, the canvassing board attorney, and County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen, an alternate member of the canvassing board. That afternoon the canvassing board itself had adjourned to a different room in the offices of the supervisor of elections in Bunnell. It usually meets in the supervisor’s conference room. But when it opens absentee ballots, as was the case that day, it adjourns to an adjacent room’s conference table.
Hadeed remained in the initial conference room, unaware that Weeks was still recording the goings-on there. Ericksen approached him. The two had a conversation about a previous instance that Hadeed recalled, a matter involving an unnamed county commissioner who, during some absentee-ballot opening, had gone to make a phone call and returned. Hadeed had told him it could be perceived as an impropriety, and the commissioner complied. The incident took place more than six years ago, before Weeks became the supervisor. The substance of the recording is not at issue. Nor is it clear to this day why Weeks played it at the Sept. 12 meeting, in front of a largely partisan crowd of her supporters, other than in an attempt to embarrass Hadeed and possibly Ericksen.
But the fact of the recording being made in the first place is at issue. “The taping of the private conversation on August 25 and replaying it publicly by Weeks, and then subsequent distributing the private conversation, is not legal and is a clear violation of state law,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said in a statement released last week, and published here. “The taping occurred outside of the canvassing board meeting. According to Fla. Statute 934.03 it is a third degree felony to tape a private conversation without knowledge of both parties and it is also a third degree felony to distribute the recording to others.”
There is a gray area: the Canvassing Board meeting had adjourned to a different part of the building, but it had not adjourned altogether, and some people–not least, Hadeed and Ericksen–were still in the first conference room, though clearly the meeting was not taking place in that location.
WNZF reported on the recording last week after Weeks sent the recording to the radio station. The Palm Coast Observer then reported on the matter. According to Gretl, a News-Journal reporter subsequently inquired of the State Attorney’s office whether the matters at issue were illegal. The State Attorney’s office forwarded the inquiry, along with the Observer’s article, to the FDLE, which began its own inquiry. FDLE requested from WNZF the audio recording involving the conversation that Weeks recorded. The radio station provided that recording to the agency today.
The holding of meetings outside the Sunshine is a different and less tractable matter, and it’s not clear to what it relates precisely. The Canvassing Board itself has not held meetings outside the Sunshine. But Judge Melissa Moore-Stens, who chairs the board, was livid in late August when Weeks took it upon herself to counter a direction by the Canvassing Board–outside of a public meeting, and without the two other board members’ knowledge.
School Board member Trevor Tucker beat challenger Michael McElroy by 58 votes in the election. The margin, when provisional ballots were taken into account, made the race eligible for a recount. The Board agreed to invite McElroy and discuss the matter with him in person at a Canvassing Board meeting. McElroy agreed. But after the meeting adjourned, Weeks spoke to McElroy by phone. The upshot was that McElroy had agreed not to pursue the recount. The fact that Weeks pursued the matter outside the purview of the board did not sit well with the other board members, and may have amounted to an action that was before the board, but that was carried out outside it, thereby raising the matter of sunshine.