Thursday, November 23, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Sheriff stands up for Sunshine Law

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Something did not look right from the moment some Dunedin city commissioners abruptly moved to fire the city manager one night in January. Now Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is investigating whether any of the commissioners violated the Sunshine Law that requires the public's business to be conducted in public. This state has a strong commitment to open meetings and public records, and it's encouraging to see the sheriff take these concerns seriously.

Shortly before midnight at the Dunedin City Commission's Jan. 7 meeting, Commissioner Heather Gracy suddenly moved to fire well-regarded City Manager Rob DiSpirito without warning or explanation. Vice Mayor Bruce Livingston and Commissioner John Tornga voted with Gracy, but the move failed on a 3-2 vote because it required a super-majority vote to fire him. Two weeks later, the commission voted 4-1 to accept DiSpirito's offer to resign immediately in return for a generous severance package.

DiSpirito served as city manager for nine years, and his evaluations were generally positive. A late-night, surprise motion to fire him immediately and without explanation that gains three commissioners' votes looks suspicious on its face. No wonder Dunedin residents complained and two former city commissioners went to the sheriff.

State law generally bans two members of the same city commission from privately discussing public business, which helps ensure the public's business is conducted in the open. Gualtieri says he has received information that warrants an inquiry, and his office plans to conduct some interviews. There is plenty of smoke here, and the sheriff should find out if there is something more. His interest also sends a message to all elected officials about the importance of following the Sunshine Law.

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