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Happytown: Activists demand answers in texting scandal

Petitions call for criminal investigation of actions of Orange County commissioners

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Even if Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs' scripted lunge toward post-facto transparency on Jan. 10 sounded good on paper – she wants to "prohibit lobbying via text message and voicemail altogether," a county statement read – that doesn't quite solve the litigious issue of what the Orange County Board of County Commissioners did to earn the dubious distinction of on-the-sly finger-banging between elected officials and business interests at a Sept. 11 board meeting. Currently, a growing drumbeat that includes the Orlando Sentinel editorial board is calling for the mayor to come clean and initiate an investigation, something the Jacobs has already dismissed as somehow lacking in decorum, because, hush, we already have a civil suit on the matter, little children. It'll all come out in the wash.

Not so fast, says director of the Community Business Association Brook Hines in a Jan. 16 email calling for a criminal investigation. "Law enforcement is an obligation of the state," she writes. "The serious matter of corruption and governance in the Sunshine State does not take a backseat to civil litigation in the same way the O.J. [Simpson] trial didn't wait for the Goldman family's wrongful death civil case."

Boom! If the bloody glove fits? Joining the chorus on Jan. 18, Organize Now took the pressure a step further by launching a petition on three platforms (change.org, signon.org and nationbuilder.com), basically taking the same logic of democratic governance that allowed more than 50,000 public signatures to be ignored by county government and using it to push Jacobs into individual action.

"To: Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs," it reads, rather simply. "Call for a criminal investigation stemming from the county's actions during the Sept. 11 public hearing for earned sick time. It is the only way to restore faith in the democratic process and bring justice to 52,000 voters who legally petitioned their government."

As for the concurrent drive toward statewide legislation pre-empting the ability for people to petition government on matters like earned sick time, Organize Now executive director Stephanie Porta points out that because this was the first citizen-led initiative that should have made the ballot – but didn't – there's currently nothing to pre-empt. Except maybe pre-emption? Damn, this is getting meta.

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