REPORTERS REMOVED FROM SECRETARY OF STATES OFFICE-Andrew Stelzer

03/16/06

The Tallahassee Democrat is asking for an explanation from the secretary of states office about why she refused to let reporters into a meeting she was holding with other public officials regarding problems Leon county is having getting new voting machines in time to meet federal deadlines. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer has the story

This past Monday, Secretary of state Sue Cobb had called a meeting with several members of the Leon county commission, and county supervisor of lections Ion Sancho, to discuss the situation that Leon county finds itself in, with all the major voting machine companies refusing to sell him machines, which are necessary in order for the county to meet the regulations of the help America vote act. Bob Gabordi is the executive editor of the Tallahassee Democrat explains what happened to one of his papers reporters, Bill Cotterell, along with other members of the press and county commissioner Bob Rackleff.

ACT-Gabordi “we got an email, saying Rackleff, we showed up and were told we were not allowed to go in..there was an outer office.

ACT-Gabordi “we thought it was of importance to the public. And there is case law that says even one commissioner, you may have grounds to go into the meeting. At one point Sue Cobbs staff called capital police to prevent us to go inside to meeting…no violation..�

Leon county supervisor of elections says he was shocked.

ACT-Sancho “In the 18 years I've been supervisor, i've never heal public meeting, I’ve never had private, but the secretary thought meeting without cameras are better to negotiate complex issues…�

Sancho asked county commissioner Bob Rackleff if he could fill Rackleff in on the meeting details later, and Rackleff decided to leave, as did members of the press, who were also being threatened by Department of State staff with eviction from the hallway. Gabordi says the paper has hoping that the letter sent to the Governor and attorney general will motivate some changes, and while they are reserving the right to take legal action, he’s hoping it wont come to that.

ACT-Gabordi ‘I don’t know I think you raise the stakes when you call the media. Eminent threat or a crime, neither were present, the only other reason was an attempt to intimidate us prevent us from doing our job. So I’ve sent a letter to attorney general demanding explanation fro what happened.�

The Secretary of States office did not return WMNFs calls for comment. The incident happened on the second day of “sunshine week�, an annual event in which newspapers and other media outlets across the country write articles to educate the public about the need for open government.

ACT-Gabordi “the story appeared on front page, and chief of AP was keynote speaker, he made comment was just evidence for open records, even Florida has a pretty good track record.�

ACT-Gabordi ‘she said its easier, but open government is tough, its not supposed to be easy..its not like running a business it’s the public s government, when we treat it like a private club.�

To learn more about Sunshine week, log onto www.sunshineweek.org

For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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