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Textgate fizzles to a close with gentle slaps on the wrist

State Attorney Jeff Ashton bumbled his way through a press conference that showed just how little officials care about county commission’s brazen acts

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But how did he make that super-soft judgment? We didn’t receive the 154-page FDLE investigation summary until 15 minutes before the press conference at the courthouse Wednesday afternoon (where Ashton took questions, though when he and an FDLE official spoke, it didn’t seem like he had given it much thought). Just $500 a head, and the offending parties would realize that “we did something wrong and move on from that,” Ashton said.

From Ashton’s point of view, it’s not his job to say whether the county commissioners’ actions were right or wrong, just whether what they did was legal. And, sure, there is some room for that thin-line argument that maybe some people don’t understand the import of text messages as public records, but that probably shouldn’t be the whole argument. It was.

Perhaps even more disturbing was that Ashton apparently glazed over the full text of the Florida public-records statute (119.07) which states that information must be preserved for at least 30 days after a public-records request is made – and one was made by sick-time proponents the morning after the Sept. 11 meeting that birthed textgate. An official who fails to do so could face impeachment and a first-degree misdemeanor. Ashton blankly stared down a question about that statute and said, “I don’t know that I would have as broad an interpretation of that statute,” before reminding everybody that he did fine those who destroyed records, so justice was served – just a light, civil justice.

Most of the narrative comprised in the full FDLE investigation – which was open to interpretation and enforcement by Ashton alone – was clearly suspicious when not just being outright sickening. Each commissioner and lobbyist and county staffer interviewed sounded coached, and all of their excuses – including that of Commissioner Scott Boyd, who said his jealous girlfriend didn’t like it when his phone held texts from other ladies – rang hollow. Not a one of them thought there was anything wrong with deleting discussions about deleting democracy during a public meeting, and each made it clear that there was no threat of collusion between commissioners and staffers.

Except it’s as plain as day to any reasonable human being who has examined the (limited) evidence that has trickled out over the last year that there may well have been. If local Republican leader Lew Oliver is getting texts from Commissioner Fred Brummer saying to “stop” Commissioner Ted Edwards, that should raise a red flag. Ashton, however, called that very text “tongue-in-cheek” behavior between jovial officials. To read the FDLE report – and specifically Oliver’s loquacious diatribes – you would think that the GOP leader was a superhero “citizen” who managed to stop an entire initiative on his own (never mind that Disney and Darden were shooting in texts at the same time). This is some rotten Swiss cheese, and apparently Ashton has quite an appetite for the stuff.

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