Henry Kelley, the Okaloosa County School District’s director of community affairs, has pleaded no contest to charges that he violated Florida’s Sunshine Law.
The plea was entered in absentia Monday ahead of a scheduled April 17 court date. Kelley offered in court papers to pay the maximum penalty of $500 for the non-criminal infraction and cover all court costs.
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“Mr. Kelley does not contest this civil fine and he has proffered the full amount of the fine and court costs to our office for payment to the court if and when the court accepts the plea Mr. Kelley has proffered,” Nathan Clark, Kelly’s Miami-based attorney, said in an email.
County Judge Patricia Grinsted is expected to sign an order directing Kelley to pay the “maximum statutory fine,” said Bill Bishop, the chief assistant state attorney for Okaloosa County.
Kelley violated the Sunshine Law Oct. 18, 2017, when he released a formal complaint lodged against former Assistant Superintendent Stacie Smith to Christopher Saul, a former television reporter for station WEAR in Pensacola.
The complaint filed by county resident Gene Earley was released before a School District investigation of Smith had been completed, according to a news release issued Monday by the State Attorney’s Office.
Clark said Kelley’s violation was not intentional and noted that his client previously had been reprimanded for releasing the documents.
“In seeking to comply with the intent of openness underlying the Sunshine Law, Mr. Kelley inadvertently violated its precise terms by releasing public records too soon. He did not do so intentionally, and he did not know the records were not yet public,” Clark said.
Earley protested the release of his formal complaint soon after learning of its occurrence. School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson responded to the breach Nov. 9 by sending Kelley a letter of reprimand.
The letter contained no specific mention of a Sunshine Law violation, but chastised Kelley for failing to go through proper channels to release public record.
About a week after sending the letter of reprimand, Jackson hired Matthew Pellegrino, a former federal agent, to further investigate the release of documents to Saul. Pellegrino determined a Sunshine Law violation had occurred.
Earley has said School District officials have provided him no records indicating that Jackson notified authorities, including the State Attorney’s Office, the Florida Department of Education or the Florida Commission on Ethics about Pellegrino’s findings.
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Kelley was charged March 26 based on the recommendation of a grand jury convened to investigate School District operations, policies and procedures.
Kelley is the fifth School District employee to have been charged with a law violation since child abuse allegations surfaced against a pre-K special education teacher in August of 2017. He is the first to have his case adjudicated.
His violation is far less serious than the felony charges filed against four other current or former employees.
Those charges include child abuse against teacher Marlynn Stillions and failure to report child abuse against former Kenwood Elementary School principal Angelyn Vaughan, district investigator Arden Farley and Smith, the former assistant superintendent.
Stillions, Vaughan and Farley are scheduled for trial May 14. Smith has a June 8 court date.