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Canvassing Board Chairwoman and County Judge Melissa Moore Stens, center, talks to Kimberle Weeks, right, as County Commission Chairman and Canvassing Board member George Hanns looks on. (Photo by Jonathan Simmons.)
Palm Coast Wednesday, Sep. 24, 2014 4 years ago

Weeks taped officials without permission

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by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

The county administration is calling it “the latest dramatic stunt to divert attention away from a very adversarial elections office.”

An audio recording Elections Supervisor Kimberle Weeks has been passing around to her political supporters of a whispered conversation between County Attorney and Canvassing Board attorney Al Hadeed and County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen was taken surreptitiously without either man’s consent or knowledge and outside of the context of a public meeting, Hadeed said.

“It was a private conversation,” Hadeed said in an interview. “We were sitting in a room where the Canvassing Board had been meeting, but then it went to another room to review ballots, tabulate ballots.”

Hadeed and Ericksen stayed behind, Hadeed said. Weeks had a recording device there, switched on.

At some point, County Commission Chairman and Canvassing Board member George Hanns entered the room, something inaudible was said, and Hanns replied, “She’s not taping it anyway.”

Both state and federal law prohibit the surreptitious recording of conversations when the person doing the recording is not part of the conversation. Florida law requires all parties to a conversation to consent to its recording, and imposes criminal penalties both for recording a private conversation without consent and for sharing such a recording — both third-degree felonies.

There are exceptions for certain for situations where the people being recorded have no reasonable expectation of privacy, as during a public meeting.

Hadeed said the recorded conversation took place outside of a public meeting and in secret, and “would appear to be” a violation of state law.

Weeks disputes that, and wrote in an email responding to the Palm Coast Observer’s questions about the incident that the recording “took place during the scheduled advertised Canvassing Board meeting.”

But she did not reply to questions about whether the meeting had been halted for a break when the recording was taken, whether the men were alone, and whether they were engaged in the official business of a Canvassing Board meeting when they were recorded.

The revelation of the recording of Hadeed’s conversation with Ericksen came about through Weeks herself, when she played the entire recording, which was fuzzy and almost inaudible, at a Canvassing Board meeting Sept. 12.

Weeks also sent the recording, according to County Administrator Craig Coffey, to a local radio station and to her political supporters, including former Flagler County Commission candidate Dennis McDonald.

McDonald forwarded the recording and a typed transcript of it to the Palm Coast Observer, writing that the conversation — in which Hadeed tells Ericksen he’d once seen a former commissioner viewing ballots when he should not have been, and ordered him to stop — implicated Hadeed and Ericksen in “unethical behavior” because they hadn’t immediately reported it to Weeks.

“In an effort to clean up Flagler a mass filing on Al Hadeed would be most fitting,” McDonald wrote.

The recorded conversation referred not to the current or even the previous election cycle but to one that took place a “long, long time ago,” Hadeed said, before Weeks had even taken office.

But Weeks, in her email to the Observer, wrote that she was “concerned with the integrity of the elections, as I am with all elections when Hadeed is involved influencing canvassing board members” and that “having the county attorney as the canvassing board attorney is a conflict of interest because he represents the board of county commissioner (sic) commissioners.”

The fact that Weeks was recording even the canvassing board meetings themselves did not come to light until after Ericksen asked her how she was getting such detailed meeting minutes, and she said she was recording the meetings. She’d never told anyone.

In fact, Hadeed said, “Ms. Weeks had told us early in the Canvassing Board process that she would not be recording the Canvassing Board meetings.”

Then, he said, “she changed her mind and started recording,” without first telling her fellow Canvassing Board members she was doing so.

It is perfectly legal to tape the activities of a government body during an open government meeting, and reporters and other audience members do so frequently.

But when the taping is done by a government official who is part of the meeting — as Weeks was, in her position on the Canvassing Board — the recordings then fall under the state’s public records law, meaning they must be archived and provided to members of the public who request them.

Weeks’ recordings weren’t archived, the public hasn’t been notified of their existence, and reporters and members of two government bodies who have requested the recordings have not received them.

Palm Coast City Clerk Virginia Smith requested a copy of the recordings, along with other information and documents Sept. 10 and had not received them by Sept. 24. Weeks had replied by email to another request for information in Smith’s Sept. 10 email, but Weeks’ emailed response ignored the request for the recordings.

Coffey emailed Weeks asking for the recordings Sept. 17. He was doing so to follow up on a request by Hanns, who had requested them and not received a reply.

Hanns, Coffey wrote in his email, “asks that you place those electronically on a CD(s) or memory stick(s) and tell us the format they are recorded in. If you have difficulty doing this our IT department could assist you and come down to copy those files from wherever you are storing them as required by law.”

When, two days later, he had not received a reply, Coffey wrote to Weeks again. “It has been two days since I have given you a public records request for all the audio recordings of the Canvas (sic) Board Meetings for this past election cycle to include the meeting held last Friday,” he wrote. “I have not heard a word from you about this request. In that same time frame you have provide (sic) some of these recordings to your political supporters and submitted them to a local radio station. Please provide these as soon as possible, pursuant to Article I section 24 of the Florida Constitution and Florida’s Public Records Law Chapter 119, FS.”

Weeks responded the same day, writing, “Craig, No meeting minutes other than the snip-it (sic) that was played at the last public canvassing board meeting has been provided to anyone. Your public records request is in the process of being fulfilled.”

Coffey had not been provided the recordings as of Sept. 24.

To view the county administration's official statement on the incident, CLICK HERE.

 

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