Hillsborough County Commissioners Sandy Murman and Ken Hagan possibly violated Florida Sunshine Laws when they failed to produce public records requested months ago.
However, after a 10 News investigation, WTSP reporter Noah Pransky says one Commissioner is apologizing while the other blames county workers.
The situation stems from an inquiry into the murky relationship between private consultant Beth Leytham and several influential county officials. 10 Investigates made the public records request in June, asking for all the emails exchanged between Leytham and eight officials, covering email addresses from both personal and public accounts.
At the time, Hagan and Murman provided only emails from official accounts, not from their personal accounts.
Another request was made June 19 for emails from personal accounts, but reporters were told by a Hillsborough County staffer that “Murman, (Victor) Crist, (Les) Miller and Hagan report they have no responsive records to this request.”
Later requests by WTSP also failed to produce text messages, this time under the claim that they were personal in nature and exempt from Florida’s public records laws.
It was not until community activist Tom Rask threatened to sue Leytham for not producing public records that Hagan and Murman both agreed to release dozens of previously hidden emails relating to county business. Hagan eventually released 85 emails; 27 came from Murman.
An examination of the documents reveals they were not all personal in nature, and many dealt with such issues as transportation (including the “Go Hillsborough” initiative) and newspaper op-ed pieces written with Leytham’s help.
Leytham continues to fall under scrutiny for her relationship with Hillsborough County commissioners and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, where it is suggested they conducted behind-the-scenes discussions, a possible violation of open records laws.
Pransky’s earlier reporting indicated Leytham had a history of exchanging political services for later roles in securing government contracts.
As a result of WTSP’s research, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office opened a new investigation to “determine if any state or local laws have been violated.”
“I didn’t mean any harm,” Murman told reporters this week. “I’ve worked so hard in this community for 35 years and I know I’m not perfect but I am accountable and I want to make sure that that’s understood in this whole process.”
Murman said the reason she did not provide the emails was because of a communication breakdown in her office and misunderstanding of what is considered public records.
For his part, Hagan also blamed his staff, saying they did not convey the message, adding that he was never told about the request for private emails.
Although most of the new information is mundane, Pransky says a few of the exchanges does lend credibility to the accusation against Leytham over her relationship with the city and county.
It was, at best, a gray area where at various times she acted as lobbyist, political adviser and friend – something that could run afoul of state regulations on official business.