Commissioner Bryan Lober Should A) Apologize B) Be Censured C) Resign. Pick Two.

Maureen Rupe is probably best described as a citizen volunteer and activist. She serves on many boards including a hospital board in Brevard County. She is also an self-described avowed socialist and we disagree with her on almost everything.

During the County Commission meeting on January 22, 2019 concerning the dissolution of the Children’s Services Council (CSC,) Commissioner Bryan Lober said that he had gotten many emails and phone called that were largely in favor of voting to dissolve the CSC.

Rupe decided to test that theory and made a public records request under Florida Statute 119, also known as the “Sunshine Law” for Lober’s phone records and who was for or against the CSC in those conversations.

Lober responded to the request with this:

Please find below records from my cell that may pertain, even if only in part, to the CSC. The records may well be overly inclusive as I do not recall the nature of each and every call. Again, these are from my cell phone. I will request that [District 2 Administrative Assistant] Kika check the call log, in the office, to see if it is notated which particular calls pertained to the CSC. It is unlikely that all calls pertaining to the CSC were notated as quite a few were in favor of dissolution without any particularly noteworthy or unique commentary.

Rupe responded with an email to County Attorney Eden Bentley:

It is interesting sometimes how people write things and it is taken by the reader to mean something else. In this case, Lober’s response to the Public Records Request was that he was including calls from his cell phone that may not have pertained to the CSC issue. Because he could not be precise, Rube interpreted that to mean Lober “could not remember” how many calls he had gotten. In other words, if Lober had sent a list of 100 calls that may have been associated with the CSC issue, but in fact, only five of those calls were on the CSC issue, that may not support his comment and position from the dais on January 22.

Also, Rupe asks Bentley whether County business can be conducted on a private cell phone. (It can be, but any records that are created in conducting business on a private cell phone are subject to the provisions of the Sunshine Law.)

The Sunshine Law and it’s provision can be very confusing at times. It is estimated that there are over 10,000 exemptions and permutations of exemptions to disclosure under the Sunshine Law. It is therefore, in our opinion not wrong to ask the County Attorney if one’s perception of the law was wrong. After all, who would be better off to know? We would hope that the County Attorney (as well as any City Attorney) would be well versed on the statute to insure they county / city complied with the law.

Rupe sent copies to County Manager Frank Abbate and Lober’s office.

The manure hit the fan.

Lober wrote a response to Rupe that is so disgusting, so vile and so over the top that one has to wonder if he has the emotional stability to be a County Commissioner.

To discuss the response, we are going to supply the entire response and also use numbers and highlights that correspond to out comments.

(1) Unless Attorney Bentley has previously indicated that she does not object to your addressing her by first name, I kindly ask that you consider addressing her either as Ms. Bentley or Attorney Bentley

This is condescending to both Rupe and Attorney Bentley. As Lober feels that Bentley has “a long and distinguished career,” it is beyond belief that he would think Bentley could not stand up for herself or address the issue if it bothered her.

(2) First, if you genuinely possess the erroneous belief that I “could not conduct county business on a private cell phone,” as I’ve openly and unambiguously indicated I have done, you are entitled to continue operating with this erroneous legal conclusion in mind.

The fact that Rupe asked an authority on the issue shows she was seeking clarification. Apparently Lober feels that asking an authority in charge a assuring the County follows the law is a bad thing.

(3) Please be advised that social media is not a good source for legal information.

We are going to address this later of several levels. We only ask that you remember the statement.

(4) You indicated, in pertinent part, I “could not remember how many calls [I] had taken on this private phone in relation to the Children’s Services issue…
(4a) As I clearly indicated, there was a possibility that one or more calls not pertaining to the CSC may have been inadvertently included.

Rupe says that Lober could not remember the number of calls and Lober admits he doesn’t know the exact number.

This is not a good place for Lober to attack Rupe as his own statements show the fallacy of his argument.

(5) If you are aware of one or more law(s) requiring that my office memorialize each and every call relating to the county commission, in writing, please educate me because that would be the first I will have heard of any such requirement.

We actually agree with Lober on the legal aspect of this. However, as you will see, his office only has records of two people calling on the issue. The point is that if a Commissioner is going to tell people that he received many calls on the issue and they were for the ordinance to end the CSC, you’d better have the proof lined up.

(5) You are free to dislike the laws of this nation just as I am free to continue saving taxpayer funds by avoiding the unnecessary expense of a county-issued cell phone which, incidentally, would resulted in absolutely nothing additional having to be disclosed pursuant to a Chapter 119, Fla. Stat., request.

This is a two fer as Rupe never indicates that she doesn’t like the laws (only that she was seeking clarification.) Heaven forbid that someone not be as informed on the law in this area as Bentley is. Furthermore, how not liking a law, the cost of a cell phone and disclosure under a public records request may be the biggest non sequitur and logical disconnect we have seen in a long time.

(6) Something interesting to note is that I had zero obligation to advise that the calls referenced were received on my cell phone. I volunteered this information to be fully candid.

Something interesting to note is that when politicians such as Lober run on and talk about “transparency” in government, they somehow feel they should be rewarded of patted on the back for living up to that promise.

Something interesting to note is that once again, Lober had claimed he had gotten many calls on the issue and they were overwhelmingly in favor of the dissolution of the CSC. His supplied records don’t support that claim.

(7) As to your request that County Attorney Eden Bentley advise you on the state of the law with respect to whether conducting county business on a private phone or email account is permissible, she will not be doing this for you.

We cannot imagine a Commissioner instructing a County employee not to clarify a point or issue with a citizen. We cannot imagine where a simple question would not be answered by a County employee.

(8) Attorney Bentley is not obliged to provide legal advice for each and every resident of Brevard County. Her position entails providing legal advice for county employees including commissioners. To have otherwise would potentially result in chaos and an unreasonable expenditure of taxpayer funds.

Arguably, asking whether an elected official can use a private cell phone in the conduct of official business is not “legal advice.” Hopefully, whether that can be done is part of the training and briefing given Commissioners yearly. Such training and the materials used would be public records. Rupe could have simply asked for those records which would have taken the County staff more time to prepare while costing both the staff and the taxpayer money.

Secondly, it should be noted that the County Attorney does not have county employees as clients. Bentley’s clients are the County Commission. (It is the same with City Attorneys – they represent the Council or the Commission but not the employees.)

Given the title of “County Attorney,” it is not surprising that a citizen feels that the attorney answer basic questions for county residents. If the attorney feels they are getting too far abroad and their answers may cause a conflict, that would be one thing. Apparently Lober, who initially described County Attorney Eden Bentley as having a “distinguished career,” believes she would not be able to discern when and where an answer would be detrimental to her clients.

We would also argue that as Bentley cannot know everything the County Commissioners are doing in respect to the Sunshine Law requirements, a citizen letter asking whether something is permissible actually aids the County and County Commissioners in that if they are not following the law – either accidentally or deliberately – the Attorney telling the Commissioner and allowing the situation to be corrected saves the citizens, the County and the County Commissioners time, effort and money.

(9) Moreover, asking Attorney Bentley to provide legal advice which could, even theoretically, be in conflict with the obligations she owes her employer is, if asked mistakenly, tactless or, if asked knowingly, repugnant.

Yeah, let’s say that a question asked by a citizen of the County, to a County employee with the title of “County Attorney” is “tactless” and “repugnant.”

Once again, Lober seems to be saying that the County Attorney Eden Bentley doesn’t know when answering a question crossed the line into something that may harm her clients.

(10) If you wish to delve into the state of the law, I suggest you contact the Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service and retain an attorney, on your dime, who will be able to advise you accordingly.

This is a truly “tactless” and “repugnant” response.

The County Attorney is paid for by the citizens using their dimes in the form of tax dollars which the County can raise at their discretion.

So let’s change the title of the “County Attorney” to what the job really is “Attorney Paid to Represent County Commissioners Using Taxpayer Dollars.”

Or, barring that, how about Lober take his own advice and have County Commissioners hire an attorney on their dime.

(11) I am putting you on notice that I vigorously pursue all lawful remedies against those who publicly defame me and I have no qualms making public examples of those who are imprudent enough to do so. While you are welcome to say what you’d like, I strongly advise you to fact check any disparaging comments you may otherwise consider publishing.

Lober has a history of trying to sue people that make statements about him he does not like.

This past year he sued his opponent Chuck Nelson for what appears to be protected political speech. He also has sued an anonymous commenter on Facebook during the campaign.

As far as we know, neither of those lawsuits has gone anywhere and we don’t think they can.

First, Lober is a public figure and so to prove he was libeled or slandered, he would have to prove malice on the part of the other person. That’s hurdle number one.

The bigger hurdle is Florida’s SLAPP Statute which deals with “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.”

768.295 Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) prohibited.—
(1) It is the intent of the Legislature to protect the right in Florida to exercise the rights of free speech in connection with public issues, and the rights to peacefully assemble, instruct representatives, and petition for redress of grievances before the various governmental entities of this state as protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and s. 5, Art. I of the State Constitution. It is the public policy of this state that a person or governmental entity not engage in SLAPP suits because such actions are inconsistent with the right of persons to exercise such constitutional rights of free speech in connection with public issues. Therefore, the Legislature finds and declares that prohibiting such lawsuits as herein described will preserve this fundamental state policy, preserve the constitutional rights of persons in Florida, and assure the continuation of representative government in this state. It is the intent of the Legislature that such lawsuits be expeditiously disposed of by the courts.

Lober would be hard pressed, in our opinion to win such a suit against Rupe specifically because Lober himself says she is doing what she does because she disagrees with people politically:

(12) Apologies, after the fact, will not be sufficient as my due diligence has revealed that you may have a history of making unreasonable public records requests and you may have a history of complaining about not receiving what you have no lawful right to inspect. My research additionally suggests that you have a history of doing this,not to obtain any particular information, but for the actual purpose of inconveniencing those on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Instead of engaging in anything approaching intelligent debate, people like you would rather incite polarization of those with differing views. That would be fine but for the burden your antics put on county staff, hence this rather strong response to you.

In other words, Rupe is exercising her right to free speech and to seek redress from the County government.

This section from Lober is quite telling. Whether the requests for public records are “unreasonable” in his mind is not the issue. If the records exempted by statute, the County can deny the request giving Rupe the statutory basis of the denial as required by Florida Statute 119.07(1)(d) and (e).

It’s that simple.

There are also allowances in the law for charging the requester of public records for staff time and supplies (such a paper if they want a printed record.)

Instead of sticking to the law and its remedies, Lober makes the issue personal. Using his office of Commissioner, he attacks Rupe based on his disagreement with her politically and her disagreement with him politically.

While he makes the claim that she is polarizing, it is he who seems to be forgetting that he has a duty to represent all people of his district, not just those he agrees with.

Earlier, (see comment (3),) Lober said:

Please be advised that social media is not a good source for legal information.

We would wonder where Lober got his “legal information.”

I Rupe engaged in activities that are lawful? Yep.

Does the County have a way of dealing with any public records request that may not meet legal requirements? Yep

So who is lacking in “legal information?”

In short, Lober appears to not be living up to his oath as a County Commissioner. That’s very troubling to us, but Lober wouldn’t be the first or the last elected official to do so.

Finally, there is this.

Rupe has in her signature blocks for her emails a quote from Plato:

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in government is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” ‐ Plato

The quote makes no reference to any person, government, elected official, etc., but is a general call to be involved with government. Or as Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, “a government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people.”

Lober makes this comment in his response to Rupe:

(13) Lastly, as a friendly suggestion, you may wish to revise or remove the quote at the base of your signature block. You’d be hard pressed to find your “inferior” at any level of elected government- all the more so when it comes to manners and civility.

We don’t see how insulting citizens shows any form of acceptable manners from an elected official.

Instead, we think it shows something else. When the CSC issue was being discussed at the County Commission, there was a heated exchange between Commissioner Isnardi and an advocate for the CSC named Kathryn Rudloff.

County Commission Vice Chair Bryan Lober, an attorney, said after the meeting that Rudloff and other Children’s Services Council supporters “really had an issue with understanding their audience” of county commissioners.

Lober said he thought that Rudloff arguing with the County Commission chair is “like me approaching a judge, and having an attitude with them” during a court hearing.

If Lober wants to compare Commissioners to judges, then Commissioners have to respect the people (the lawyers) in front of them. Any judge who does not – who insults lawyers – could face disciplinary actions and rightfully so.

Commissioners should not be insulting citizens like this.

There is no excuse for it.

This Commission has issues with people being critical of them. Pritchett and Isnardi have actively tried to shut commenters down.

Curt Smith actually asked then County Attorney Scott Knox to craft an ordinance that would have allowed the Commission to stop speakers from making comments the Commission didn’t like. Failure to stop could have led to the arrest of people for speaking. The ordinance was eventually pulled most likely because of blow back from citizens and attorneys telling Commissioners the ordinance would never pass any legal challenge.

So now Lober adds his name to the Commissioners who don’t want people to be critical of them – who don’t want people to say things with which they disagree.

There is almost a belief that appears to be citizens should have to “kiss the ring” when talking to or about Commissioners.

However, Lober went beyond just trying to shut down protected speech, he decided that as a Commissioner, it was his duty to insult a citizen.

For that, Lober should apologize and should be censured by the Commission. If Lober can’t stand the heat, he should resign.

It’s that simple.

If Commissioners and elected officials want people to start talking about them and “treating” treating them better, they have to take the lead and treat citizens better.

Lober talks about his rights and and American law. It would be great if he recognized the rights of others as well.

One Response to “Commissioner Bryan Lober Should A) Apologize B) Be Censured C) Resign. Pick Two.”

  1. Hometown says:

    When will elected officials learn that they are put into office to do the will of the people and that requires listening to all sides before making decisions. Oftentimes, it seems that once elected they think they have been given a blank check to impose their will on the people like they are the only one who knows what’s best for us. I don’t expect my elected officials to always do as I wish but they have a duty to listen to all inputs, both positive and negative, before making decisions. Shame on any elected official that tries to beat down or threaten a citizen for expressing his/her views.

  2. […] our post yesterday concerning the loathsome comments made by Brevard County Commissioner Bryan Lober, there were […]