March 16, 2020
Commissioners would have drinks together and that all of them had made remarks about their level of frustration with Raydient.
By Peter Schorsch
March 13, 2020
This is Part 3 of a Florida Politics investigative series.
As reported in Part 2 of this series, Raydient Places + Properties (Raydient) ultimately decided to file a complaint with the court for “violations of Florida’s Public Records Act under Chapter 119, Florida Statutes, and violations of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law under Chapter 286, Florida Statutes.”
In December 2018, after then-Nassau County Office of Management and Budget Director Manager Justin Stankiewicz had refused to delete text messages, County Attorney Mike Mullin fired him. Mullin blamed the firing on $1,000 in county funds that went missing. Still, the Sheriff’s office investigated the incident and found no evidence to support the theory that Stankiewicz had stolen the money. In the end, no charges were ever filed.
Over 150 pages of text messages responsive to Raydient’s request that Mullin and multiple Commissioners were on were later discovered through subpoenas. Many of the later-acquired text messages appear to paint a picture that included “covert efforts by multiple County Commissioners, Mullin, and others — outside of the Sunshine — to try to negatively impact and pressure Raydient.”
Private meetings in Tallahassee
According to Raydient’s complaint, beginning in February 2018, the five Commissioners at the time, along with Mullin, then-County Manager Shanea Jones (now Shanea Jones Stankiewicz) and other county employees, traveled, stayed and met together in Tallahassee, “in an attempt to defeat a proposed amendment to a state sector plan statute which the county believed would benefit landowners and developers like the Plaintiff … While in Tallahassee, the County Commissioners met together outside of the Sunshine and discussed how they could exact revenge on Plaintiffs for having supported the legislative amendment, including plans to launch negative media campaigns, suspending development approvals and enacting ordinances to target Plaintiffs’ property for increased taxes.”
Both Jones and Commissioner Justin Taylor confirmed this.
Taylor admitted the issues discussed among the Commissioners, included how to address the issue and handle that type of discussion, such as “sending out news releases or posting … just things on social media.”
In fact, Jones, the former County Manager who is now married to Stankiewicz, testified that the discussions among the Commissioners in Tallahassee were broader than Taylor described and included “the ongoing dispute with Raydient regarding recreation and funding of public facilities, including revoking a tax and establishing a targeted municipal-services taxing unit over Raydient’s property,” which the County Commission eventually adopted in October 2018 and is consistent with the types of messages that the Commissioners sent and received around the same time they were together in Tallahassee.
According to the complaint:
“Around the same time the Commissioners were holding private meetings together in Tallahassee, Mullin made the decision to hire Kristi Dosh, a public relations consultant, to help mount a public relations smear campaign against Raydient … negotiated her compensation and used taxpayer dollars to pay her fees.”
Jones, who was Mullin’s predecessor as County Manager and worked for the Commission for over 12 years, testified “that this was the only time she could ever recall where the county hired a public relations firm for a county matter.”
Jones even testified that during her time as county manager, Mullin often provided inaccurate and misleading information to the Commission, and stated that it was common for Mullin to misrepresent things and be less than truthful to the Commission about the true state of affairs. Specifically, she mentioned that Mullin “ … said publicly many times that the Stewardship District is responsible for financing the public facilities. We told him numerous times, and I told Commissioners separately numerous times, that I didn’t agree with that. The Stewardship District is a funding mechanism. It’s not responsible.”
Private meetings at Commissioner Edwards’ home
Depositions and testimony in the lawsuit also revealed that Commissioners regularly met at Commissioner Pat Edwards’ house after Commission meetings.
In sworn testimony, Taylor admitted to regularly attending gatherings at Edwards’ house after Commission meetings where Commissioners Daniel Leeper and Edwards, Mullin, Stankiewicz, and sometimes Jones would attend.
Taylor confirmed that the Commissioners would have drinks together and that all of them had made remarks about their level of frustration with Raydient.
Jones provided even more detail about the gatherings, testifying that when she attended the gatherings at Edwards’ house, she observed multiple Commissioners, including Taylor, Edwards, and sometimes Leeper, along with Mullin, discussing their frustrations with Raydient — the “things they mentioned in the boardroom and Tallahassee” and “how were they going to get Raydient to fund parks and recreations and what options they have.”
Stay tuned for Part 4 of Florida Politics’ investigative series on Raydient and Nassau County.