The former spokesman for Okaloosa County School District faces fine for Sunshine Law violation brought by State Attorney's Office.

Henry Kelley, the Okaloosa County School District's director of community affairs, faces a fine of up to $500 for violating the Florida Sunshine Law.

 

First Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bill Eddins announced Monday morning that Kelley had been charged with a noncriminal violation of the law, which governs the release of public records and the conduct of open meetings in Florida.

A fine of $500 would constitute the maximum penalty under state law for a noncriminal Sunshine Law offense, said Greg Marcille, the chief deputy assistant state attorney in Eddins' office.

The charges stem from the Oct. 18, 2017 release of a document considered “confidential and exempt” from public scrutiny to a television reporter, a news release from the State Attorney's Office said.

Kelley provided WEAR reporter Christopher Saul a copy of a formal complaint lodged by county resident Gene Earley against Stacie Smith, the school district's then-assistant superintendent of human resources.

The complaint alleged Smith had committed serious breaches of school district policy and violated state statutes in performance of her duties.

Smith has since been arrested and charged with failing to report suspected child abuse in the 2016 case involving Noah Perillo, a Kenwood Elementary School pre-K student at the center of an investigation that currently has seen four former or current school district employees arrested and awaiting trial.

By filing the charge against Kelley, Eddins complied with the recommendation of a grand jury empanelled to investigate several aspects of Okaloosa County's troubled school district. He had stated his intention to charge Kelley on March 15, the day the grand jury presentment was made public.

Kelley is scheduled to appear in Okaloosa County Court before Judge Patricia Grinsted at 1 p.m., Tuesday, April 17 to address the charge. He did not respond to requests Monday for comment.

Earley applauded the State Attorney’s Office action.

“I'm really glad the State Attorney has taken appropriate action that the superintendent herself would not,” he said.

Jackson remains under investigation

Earley contends that after receiving a report confirming Kelley's Sunshine Law violations, Okaloosa County School District Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson failed to notify proper authorities, including the State Attorney's Office, the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Commission on Ethics.

He said Eric Mitchell, the school district's public records custodian, has made it clear no record exists in school district files of Jackson notifying Eddins' office or any state agencies about the findings in the Kelley case.

“That tells me she has filed nothing,” he said. “If I have all the records on that subject, she has not taken action, so I'm very pleased the State Attorney's Office has taken action Ms. Jackson would not. It's a start towards accountability, and that's what we're asking for.”

Neither Jackson nor Okaloosa County School Board Attorney Jeff McInnis responded to emails seeking comment regarding the charges or Earley's findings.

The embattled Jackson has been and remains under fire as questions swirl about what knowledge she had of the 2016 investigation into child abuse at Kenwood Elementary.

Jurors stated in their presentment they were “concerned by inconsistent statements” Jackson has made regarding when she learned about the Perillo investigation. They have asked the State Attorney's Office to further investigate the superintendent.

Earley protested about Kelley's releasing information to Saul soon after learning of its occurrence. Jackson responded Nov. 9 by sending Kelley a letter of reprimand.

She later hired Matthew Pellegrino, a former federal agent, to investigate the matter.

No further violations by Kelley

In his complaint, Earley cited two state statutes he contended were violated when Kelley released the documents he'd sent to the school district. Pellegrino concurred with Earley's allegations, finding that Kelley violated two Florida statutes.

Those statutes were:

Section 1012.31(3)(a), which states: “The complaint and material relating to the investigation of a complaint against a public school employee are confidential until the preliminary investigation is either concluded or ceases to be active.”

Section 119.071(2)k, which states: “a complaint of misconduct filed with an agency against an agency employee and all information obtained pursuant to an investigation by the agency of the complaint is confidential and exempt until the investigation ceases to be active, or until the agency provides written notice to the employee who is the subject of the complaint” … that the investigation had been concluded and the employee has been either cleared or found at fault.

“Earley's allegation that Kelley violated Sections 1017.31 and 119.071 of the Florida Statutes appears to be correct,” Pellegrino said in his report.

“A memo outlining a timeline of events concerning the Stacie Smith complaint do show that the investigation of Earley's complaint against Stacie Smith was still ongoing beyond 10/18/2017 when Kelley released it,” the report said. “Accordingly this complaint is considered to be confidential and exempt.”

The single violation charge against Kelley “basically covers whatever may have occurred” with the Smith complaint as it was transferred into Saul's hands, Marcille said.

Further violations would not have been committed if the document was turned over to multiple persons, as has been alleged, Marcille added.