Tourist Development Council member Jack Sanborn was found not guilty Friday on charges that he violated Florida’s Sunshine Law by phoning two other panel volunteers to discuss matters that had previously come before the board.
Santa Rosa County Judge Jose Giraud ruled after nearly an hour-long hearing that while Sanborn’s calls on his personal cellphone may have skirted the law that mandates government transparency, the prosecution’s case lacked specific proof he sought to influence future decisions by the board.
Still, it was close.
“I’m relieved,” said Sanborn after Giraud’s verdict.
Further, the non-criminal charges that could have carried a $500 fine had an impact: “No more phone calls” to other TDC members, said Sanborn.
Assistant State Attorney Tom Willams said after the verdict that the judge’s decision was “very well reasoned.”
Still, Williams said, his office had a duty to bring the charges: “The facts needed to be to be made known.”
Sanborn said he phoned two other volunteer TDC members last summer to clarify his memory on two issues that had previously come before the board: funding for the county’s tourism website and increased staffing for paid Tourist Development Director Julie Morgan.
Williams suggested that Sanborn was trying to influence possible future votes if the TDC revisits those matters in the future.
But Giraud said the prosecution hadn’t learned enough about the “substance” of Sanborn’s conversations with his colleagues to agree.
Sanborn said one takeaway for him from all this is to refer to meeting minutes and non-voting county tourism employees about any TDC matters if he seeks such information outside the public format of a board meeting.