First Amendment Foundation: Crestview council, attorney were 'overly cautious' in recusal

Published: Monday, April 7, 2014 at 10:40 AM.

CRESTVIEW — City Council members and city attorney Jerry Miller were "overly cautious" when the council recused itself during a March 24 presentation, according to Florida First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen.

At the council meeting, Miller cautioned Dr. Jean Mitchell against presenting information from private conversations she had with individual council members. Miller said he was concerned that Mitchell would disclose council members' private remarks before the full board.

Miller said Friday that his first duty is to assure the council is not exposed to potential legal liabilities. "Every time I have perceived opportunity to protect my clients, I will do my best," he said.

That opportunity arose during Mitchell's presentation, Miller said. "I didn't know what she was going to say," he said. "She was on an unpredictable course."

Council President Robyn Helt, sensitive to a potential Sunshine Law violation, asked the board to wait in the hallway to allow Mitchell to conclude her comments.

"It’s perfectly okay for a citizen such as Dr. Mitchell ... to discuss an issue with various commissioners individually and then to relay the fact and gist of those conversations," Petersen said."The fact that Dr. Mitchell was making her comments at a public meeting makes it, I think, doubly okay." 

Miller shrugged off criticism of his advice as second-guessing his and the council's actions after the fact.

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