Thursday, August 07, 2008

Mystery of the Agenda that Didn't Bark

On his personal blog, Independent News publisher Rick Outzen broke the mysterious news story that a surprise meeting of the Santa Rosa Island Authority late yesterday was cut short by Dr. Thomas Campanella's fast thinking. Campanella is the only one of six board members who is not a political appointee of an Escambia County commissioner. He's elected by island residents and currently is chairman of the SRIA's governing board.

Reports Outzen:
The special meeting set for the Santa Rosa Island Authority yesterday was stopped before it began. Chairman Tom Campanella, vice chair John Peacock, Ed Guernsey and Vernon Prather were in attendance. Fred Gant was in route.

Peacock had called the meeting. Campenella struck the gavel and immediately asked Board attorney Mike Stebbins if the meeting had been properly noticed. Stebbins advised that the meeting - even though it was a special one - had to be noticed 48 hours prior.

According to what we've been able to piece together from multiple sources, the episode almost looks like an attempted coup. Perhaps less than 48 hours beforehand, we're told, someone at the SRIA authorized lower level staff to publish the "special meeting" notice which we have reproduced above. You can view it yourself on-line right here [pdf warning].

Who dunnit? We can't be sure, but our sources say the shadow of suspicion falls heavily over Buck Lee, John Peacock, and Mike Whitehead.

Lee is what used to be known as the "general manager" of the Island Authority, now retitled "executive director." He has close ties to county commissioner Mike Whitehead, as we've previously observed. Peacock is an SRIA board member. He was appointed by Whitehead and is widely regarded as the commissioner's personal sock puppet.

The curious thing is the meeting notice included this odd prediction:
"For the purpose of this meeting John Peacock will be acting as chairman and Fred Gant will be acting as vice-chairman."
That, apparently, was news to current SRIA board chairman Campanella and his board colleague, Vernon Prather. (Two other commissioners were either out of town or on the road.)

There was a brief but unsuccessful effort to get to the bottom of the mysteries -- Who called the supposed "special" meeting? and How is it Peacock was determined in advance to be the "acting chair"? Then, Island Authority attorney Mike Stebbins warned the remaining board members that the meeting notice was likely in violation of Florida's Sunshine in Government Act.

Chairman Campanella dutifully declared the meeting adjourned and he and Prather walked out.

You'd think Whitehead and his hand-picked buddy, Peacock, would be more sensitive to Sunshine Act violations than this. After all, a number of Whitehead's former colleagues lost their jobs, faced jail, and incurred stiff fines for violating that same law back in 2002.

The mystery of the meeting notice, however, is wrapped inside a larger enigma: What was the substance of this abortive meeting supposed to involve? Outzen says on his blog, "Campenalla has had Stebbins investigate complaints about SRIA manager Buck Lee without informing his fellow board members. " And a following comment posted under the screen name "robertonlamar" adds:
the issues are outlined in a letter from the penscola [sic] news journal which is a public record for anyone to see in the SRIA office.
That letter, it turns out, is from investigative reporter Michael Stewart. (Stewart is all over the place these days, isn't he?) What he's probing are employee complaints of abusive management practices by none other than Buck Lee himself.

Some time ago, Whitehead announced his intention to engineer a county take over of the SRIA and ample evidence suggested Lee was behind him. Now, Whitehead's own appointee has been caught trying to muscle in on SRIA board meeting schedules to run the show and bury the employee complaints about Buck Lee.

Campanella, Prather, and Stebbins deserve praise for stopping the SRIA board coup in its tracks and, in effect, insisting that personnel complaints proceed in a systematic and balanced manner. For that matter, Peacock owes thanks to Campanella for keeping him off the criminal court docket.

But you know we haven't heard the last of the matter. Not as long as Buck Lee is where he is and Whitehead remains a county commissioner.

Further Amplification Dept.

Ten Questions for Peacock
SRIA board member John Peacock has offered in the comment below to "set the record straight." He's invited to answer ten simple questions, right here on this blog for everyone to see.

1 comment:

John Peacock said...

This is a great work of fiction. When you would like to know the real truth please feel free to contact me. John Peacock. I am more than willing to discuss the exact sequence of events and the reasons why they happened. Your assumptions as to what occurred and why they occurred are wrong. Please feel free to contact me if you want to really set the record straight. Use the SRIA website to send me an email with contact information.