Friday, May 19, 2006

A Note From Charlie

The High Springs Herald has an update on the goings on in Alachua - and the refusal to provide access to public records in the investigation of the election.

With county official now involved, situation heats up in city of Alachua
By Ronald Dupont Jr.
Herald Editor

There is also an editorial on this there too: Stop the games; show Grapski the documents.

You can also check the Free Alachua blog for updates on situation. The most recent post is Records Continue to be Denied; Business Done Outside the Sunshine.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Shining a light on the corruption in Alachua County

17th May 2006

Here’s the latest message from Charlie Grapski:

Hi all,

I figured I would check in and give an update with the endeavors down here in Florida. The good news is that I am not in jail - although this effort to address outright corruption in the government of the City of Alachua has forced me to focus nearly exclusively on this battle while at the same time campaigning for office. But then again - what is a better campaign than actually doing what our elected and other public officials ought to do themselves. That’s what they are there for isn’t it?

The difficulty is that we have people in positions of alleged authority - who act with the color of that authority - but violate the law. They are, in effect, the law. This is a mirror image of what is happening nationally with the Bush administration.

I went down today to try and file a sworn complaint against the person who arrested me for perjury - he outright lied on the sworn complaint about me. And the State Attorney already has testimony of the only other witness to the events - who stated on the date of my arrest that indeed the individual did lie.

Now to understand the problem - lets look at who the individual is: Clovis Watson is the City Manager of Alachua. He is not a trained manager - although he has been getting correspondence degrees paid for by the City to build his resume ever since obtaining that position. As City Manager I met with him to review the absentee ballots and related documents. This was in regard to an investigation into improprieties of city officials - including Watson - in the conduct of the April City Commission election. Watson is a named defendant in the election lawsuit that we filed the week prior to my arrest.

Watson is also the City Clerk who also serves on the City’s Canvassing Board. But Watson was also actively campaigning for a person named James Lewis. Lewis has served on the City Commission in that seat for 39 years - and was “re-elected” (allegedly) this time by a margin of 18 votes which he obtained through the absentee ballot count. Prior to this he was behind 9 votes. I will share a bit more that I know - as Watson has forced some of this out (although trying to spin it).

As City Manager, the day before the election, Watson greeted some of the city’s residents (primarily lower-income African Americans) at the door to City Hall the day before the election. That was the day the utility bills were due - and it is customary for a number of people in the community to pay the bill in person at the Deputy Clerk’s office. The Deputy Clerk, Alan Henderson, who also supported Lewis actively - also performed the duties of supervisor of elections.

Watson, standing a few feet from Henderson’s door, instructed individuals to vote for James Lewis. He then had them brought to vote in Henderson’s office - even though there was no formal “early voting” being conducted as required under the statutes. This was illegal - although there are far greater details of what took place making this worse - and clearly a conflict of interest as Watson was one of three members of the Canvassing Board.

Watson and Henderson prevented me from inspecting the ballots when I first appeared to do so. During that meeting I recorded our transactions, as I have a right to do, based upon the knowledge that citizens seeking public records in the City of Alachua are usually not given them in violation of the law. Thus I wanted a record of my transaction in case I needed to take legal action to obtain the records. The recording was done openly and even discussed by Watson and Henderson as it was ongoing. Neither ever asked me to turn off the recording nor refused to talk on the recording. They refused to provide me the documents that day - but set an appointment for the following week.

I was concerned about their possession of the documents during the weekend - but as this was the best we could do - I appeared the following Monday as scheduled.

Watson allowed me to begin inspecting the records - but then appeared out of his office with the Chief of Police and two armed officers to arrest me - on the felony wiretap statute. This despite the fact that Watson, in a memo to the City that night, stated that he was willing to talk on tape and did so with his consent. But again - public officials have no “expectation of privacy” in the conduct of their public business - and the public has a right to document their transactions and interactions with those public officials.

But while I was inspecting the ballots - before I could finish - Watson had me arrested. How? Well, Watson is also the Police Commissioner. As such he ordered the Chief to have me arrested based upon a sworn complaint. Who swore the complaint? Watson - in his capacity as a “sworn officer.”

This should seem quite peculiar.

Since that time - I have continued to endeavor to review the absentee ballot process. And these officials have continued to stone-wall me. They even denied Mike Byerly, County Commissioner, a reasonable explanation yesterday as to why we are being denied access to these records.

Meanwhile I tried to file a sworn statement for the offense of perjury in Watson’s sworn statement which was the basis of my arrest. The State Attorney’s office, however (which is where Watson should have filed a sworn complaint to have me investigated prior to my being arrested), will not accept a sworn complaint but demanded that it be made through the police department.

Of course - the Police Department is who is being complained about. The only other option is the County Sheriff - but they too don’t want to get caught up in this. So its like a Catch-22. Who polices the police? Who investigates the public officials and agencies? No one but citizens - but then when citizens attempt this the public agencies and police shut them down.

But I was able to provide a statement of information about the perjury and the problematic events surrounding this. And they go very deep. This created a case file and should force the State Attorney to eventually investigate … we hope… In the meantime we are now trying to raise $10,000 by morning for a legal front to push this to the next level.

I’m literally exhausted. Last night I went to the City’s Commission meeting. They used the “consent agenda” (basically passing laws no one has even seen - without even doing it at the meeting - but behind closed doors - which in Florida is illegal) to pass a number of things - including approving minutes of the Canvassing Board meeting of the election. The problem is - no one in the public has even seen what they passed. Its not even clear that the Commissioners themselves saw it. Here is the catch. I asked for the recording of that meeting. They denied it - and claimed it was not made. But that is not normal as they record all these meetings. Thus this document, passed last night “officially” is the only official account of the election count - and no one has ever even seen what it says.