DESTIN — Mayor Gary Jarvis reported committing two violations of the Florida Sunshine Law in documents he sent last week to the Florida Commission on Ethics.
"I am writing this letter to notify you of my actions that may violate my ethical responsibilities as mayor of the city of Destin, Florida," Jarvis said in a letter to Chris Anderson, executive director of the Commission on Ethics. "Please review this information and respond as you deem appropriate."
RELATED: Destin finally provides answers to legal expense questions
RELATED: (2019) Destin sued over public records
The first violation involved Jarvis’s failure in 2019 to turn over text messaged discussions between himself and a developer concerning a project that was to be brought before the city.
The second was committed in February of this year when Jarvis sent an email urging another group of developers to contact him at a personal email address to "keep the emails off the public record."
Anderson acknowledged receiving a packet of information from Jarvis, which, because it is not a formal complaint, is not considered confidential.
Ethics Commission staff will review the Jarvis letter and "proceed accordingly," Anderson said. Action could be taken in a case where ethical violations are uncovered, he said.
Jarvis said Friday he anticipates, at worst, receiving a letter of reprimand or a fine.
Public record law violations in Florida are considered criminal offenses and would typically be investigated by the Attorney General’s Office or State Attorney’s Office, Anderson said.
A citizen complaint is required before the State Attorney’s Office would launch a Sunshine Law violation investigation, according to Bill Bishop, the chief assistant state attorney for Okaloosa County.
"We have not received any complaint regarding the mayor at this time," Bishop said Monday. "If we get one we will review it."
The Florida Commission on Ethics does occasionally refer paperwork it receives to local State Attorney’s offices, Anderson said.
The initial violation was revealed in May of 2019 when Pointe Mezzanine LLC, a group seeking to build a docking facility at Norriego Point, sued the city alleging a public records law violation.
The suit was dropped in May of this year when texts between Jarvis and Joe Winkeler, who was working for Pointe Mezzanine LLC, were turned over by the city.
The city paid attorneys approximately $27,000 in fees before the settlement was reached.
In a deposition taken before the lawsuit was dropped Jarvis explained to attorneys for Pointe Mezzanine his rationale for not turning over the text communication between himself and Winkeler.
frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen>
"Seeing that he’s your client I assumed that you had all those records," he said.
A transcript of the deposition was sent to the Commission on Ethics along with Jarvis’ letter outlining his violations.
Also during the course of the deposition Jarvis explained to the Pointe Mezzanine attorneys that he had been trained in public records law after his election in 2018 and undergone annual training since that time. He answered "yes" when asked if he considered himself well versed on the law.
Further Sunshine Law training was mandated following Jarvis’ first public records misstep. The city also made changes to its existing Destin public records policy manual.
The more recent violation occurred Feb. 12 when Jarvis notified a group planning to bring business before the Destin City Council that they should start communicating with him via his personal email.
"Please use (a personal email address) for all future emails about Destin Event Center,"Jarvis wrote.
He informed those he was writing to that "using this email address — gjarvis@cityofdestin — subject(s) these emails to public records laws and can be accessed by any requester by law."
The next day Jarvis received an email from City Attorney Kyle Bauman.
"Using your personal email for city business does not shield it from public records laws," Bauman said, taking care to capitalize and underline the word "not."
"Please, as soon as you get the chance, inform everyone ... that your personal email address cannot be used as a shield for the public records law," the email said.
In his letter to Anderson, Jarvis acknowledged that he now understands his action in February "is in contravention of the public records law."
"I will cease and desist using my personal email address going forward," he said.
Jarvis also informed Anderson that he had turned over to the city all emails that had been received on his personal email account. He also wrote that he had no financial stake in any of the projects discussed in messages on his private account.