Incumbents Rick Moore and Tommy Green have cited potential Sunshine Law violations as their reasoning for opting out.
DESTIN — Fire Commissioners Rick Moore and Tommy Green have opted out of participating in a forum scheduled Thursday night for candidates for the Destin Fire Control District board of commissioners seats 2 and 4.
Moore and Green are incumbents. Their opponents, John Harvey and George Giganti, say they will participate in the forum.
In letters sent to the commissioners and posted on Facebook by Moore, fire district attorneys Michael Mattimore and Dawn Stuntz cited Moore’s and Green’s participation in ongoing collective bargaining negotiations and suggested they not attend the forum. Stuntz also cited “potential public perception of violations of the Sunshine Law” if Moore and Green were to participate.
Mattimore and Stuntz did not return requests for comment.
However, Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation and an expert in Sunshine Law, said that the incumbent commissioners' participation in a forum would not be in violation of the law.
"There’s an attorney general opinion, AGO 92-05, that says participation by candidates for public office, including incumbents, in a public forum sponsored by a private organization is not a violation of the sunshine law," Petersen said in an email to the Daily News.
The opinion on the Attorney General's website continues to say that "the expression of an incumbent candidate's position on a matter which may foreseeably come before a commission, absent an interchange between an attending commissioner, would not subject the meeting to the Sunshine Law."
Forum moderator Steven Menchel said incumbents candidates for the Destin City Council have participated in forums but have chosen not to answer certain questions to adhere to the Sunshine Law.
“I have put on many, many forums,” Menchel said. “I put on a DFCD commissioners forum two years ago. I am very, very familiar with the Sunshine Law. I will not and do not ask any question that will violate the Sunshine Law.
"It just looks like an excuse not to participate," he added.
Still, Moore said he and Green would follow their attorneys’ advice and not participate in the forum.
“It doesn’t put us in a fair position to have to sit there and not answer any of the questions and the other candidates do,” he said. “And I don’t want to put our district in a litigation situation.
“They can call me direct if they have any questions,” he added.
Green said he likely will attend the forum but not participate, and if residents have questions that do not concern collective bargaining negotiations, he would be happy to answer them.
“It’s not that we’re trying to get out of anything, it’s that we’re afraid of the potential litigation coming if we say something wrong,” he said. “Somebody will turn it around and use it against you, and I’m not willing to put myself in that position.”
Harvey, who is running for Moore’s seat, said it is “unfortunate” that Moore and Green will not participate.
“I respect Mr. Moore and Mr. Green not answering questions that they feel might have something to do with contract negotiations, but I’m sure there would be other questions asked,” Harvey said. “It’s unfortunate for the citizens of Destin (that they won’t participate).”
Giganti, who is running for Green’s seat, did not return a request for comment as of press time.
The forum will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Destin Community Center.