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Palm Bay: Holton: O! What A Tangled Web He Weaves. (UPDATED at the bottom of the post)




EDITOR’S NOTE: See update at the bottom of the post.

Time after time, Palm Bay City Councilman Calvin “Tres” Holton has said that it is wrong for people to attack his family when it comes to political issues. We agree with that statement. We cannot find a single instance where anyone other than Holton himself has mentioned or brought his family, his wife or his children into any discussion of political issues, but the sentiment is correct.

Therefore our eyes popped out of their sockets a bit when we saw this headline from the Florida Today newspaper:

Palm Bay police investigate charge that Tres Holton and his mother tried to entrap petitioners

How can that be? How can the man who always claims that family is off limits on political issues bring his own mother into a political activity?

Even more importantly, was that activity legal?

Palm Bay Police are investigating accusations that the mother of deputy mayor Tres Holton recorded opponents of a City Council fee hike without their knowledge, a potential felony, and forged a signature on a petition form, a potential misdemeanor.

The alleged incidents took place at a First Friday community event on June 1, when petitioners seeking to change how the city assesses fees were gathering signatures to put the issue on the November 2018 ballot.

The petition organizers filed a complaint with the Palm Bay Police Department on Sunday against Anne Deree Stobaugh of West Columbia, South Carolina, as well as her son Holton. They say she recorded them without permission and illegally signed a petition she knew she was ineligible to sign.

Three of the organizers say they recognized Stobaugh from a photograph and her voice on the recording which they say was illegally made and later made public by Holton.

There are a lot of legal issues with this incident and we are going to try and address some of them.

As a starting point, once again here is the recording of the encounter between the signature gatherers and the potential signature signer:

ISSUE NUMBER ONE: Was the recording itself illegal??

NO.

Florida Statute 934.03(c) reads:

934.03 Interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications prohibited.—

(c) Intentionally discloses, or endeavors to disclose, to any other person the contents of any wire, oral, or electronic communication, knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained through the interception of a wire, oral, or electronic communication in violation of this subsection;

People may think that means that people cannot record an “oral communication,” (a conversation) without the consent of both parties. Normally, that is true. However, “oral communication” in the statute is defined as:

Florida Statute 934.02 “Oral communication” means any oral communication uttered by a person exhibiting an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying such expectation and does not mean any public oral communication uttered at a public meeting or any electronic communication.”

The recording was made at an public event. There were hundreds of people mulling around. The music was so loud at this event that the signature gatherer and the potential signer were literally shouting to be heard. The signature gatherers had signs advertising they were there and what they were there for. They wanted people to come and talk to them.

Bottom line is that out in public, at a public event, where no one has asserted a privacy claim, and the subject is of public interest all adds up to “no expectation of privacy.” The recording itself is legal.

ISSUE NUMBER TWO: Did the potential petition signer do anything wrong or illegal?

YES.

The potential signer has been identified as Councilman Holton’s mother, Anne Deree Stobaugh of West Columbia, South Carolina.

Stobaugh is heard on the recording as saying she just moved here from South Carolina and was a resident of Palm Bay and eligible to vote. Those statements are not truthful. Stobaugh’s residence, as shown by this tax bill, is in South Carolina. A look at the voting records for Brevard County show she is not a registered voter in the County.

The petition gatherers have provided this page of petition signatures which has the place where Strobaugh signed the petition after given a false name and address.

It should be noted that the page shows the same language that was read to Stobaugh in the recording.

(signature enlargement)

According to Holton, “who” doesn’t matter.

Holton blames the organizers for misleading voters and maintains that’s the real issue but has so far failed to explain his accusations.

“The petitioners lied and used scare tactics in persuading people to sign a petition. Now that they are caught, they want to shoot the messenger,” Holton said in an email to FLORIDA TODAY.

“It doesn’t matter who recorded the petitioners, What matters is that it is a legal recording, and that the recording reveals the petitioners’ lies/tactics.”

As in most cases where Holton opines about legal issues, he is wrong. “Who” does matter.

By giving false information and a fake signature, Stobaugh broke the law. Florida Statute 104.85 reads:

104.185 Petitions; knowingly signing more than once; signing another person’s name or a fictitious name.—

(2) A person who signs another person’s name or a fictitious name to any petition to secure ballot position for a candidate, a minor political party, or an issue commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

ISSUE THREE: Is Councilman Holton implicated in the actions of his mother?

YES.

It is beyond any reasonable doubt that Stobaugh was out wandering about town when she:
1) saw the signature gatherers,
2) turned on a hidden recording device to “record,”
3) engaged in a conversation with one of the signature gatherers,
4) lied about living in Palm Bay,
5) lied about being a registered voter,
6) gave a false address,
7) signed a fictitious name,
8) then gave the recording of the conversation to her son.

These actions did not happen on a whim. We believe there is no doubt that this was a coordinated plan between Councilman Holton and his mother. The law calls these sorts of “plans” a “conspiracy.” As Stobaugh’s actions are a first degree misdemeanor, Holton himself would guilty of a first degree misdemeanor as per Florida Statute 104.091:

104.091 Aiding, abetting, advising, or conspiring in violation of the code.—
(1) Any person who knowingly aids, abets, or advises the violation of this code shall be punished in like manner as the principal offender.
(2) Any person who agrees, conspires, combines, or confederates with another person to commit a violation of this code shall be punished as if he or she had committed the violation.

ISSUE NUMBER FOUR: Are there legal concerns in regards to the initial non-release of the recording by the City / Councilman Holton?

YES.

In the sequence of events that have transpired with this recording, the conspiracy is not the last time Holton appears to have broken the law.

As we posted last Friday, several people had asked for the recording under Florida Statute chapter 119, also known as the “Sunshine Law.”

The requests were forwarded to City Clerk Terese Jones who sent this back to the requesters after a few days:

The wording here is important.

Holton did not say there were no public records that would fall under the Sunshine Law, but rather there were no records (public or otherwise) at all.

The fact that Holton lied about the existence of the recording is a violation of the Sunshine law. There are many exemptions to disclosing records to the public. Lying about the actual existence of the record is not one of them. By denying the existence of the record, Holton violated the Sunshine Law. The fact that Holton knew there was a recording and failed to disclose the existence of said recording makes his lying about the existence a willful act. He knowingly violated the Sunshine Law.

119.10 Violation of chapter; penalties.—
(1) Any public officer who:
(a) Violates any provision of this chapter commits a noncriminal infraction, punishable by fine not exceeding $500.
(b) Knowingly violates the provisions of s. 119.07(1) is subject to suspension and removal or impeachment and, in addition, commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
(2) Any person who willfully and knowingly violates:
(a) Any of the provisions of this chapter commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(b) Section 119.105 commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. (emphasis ours)

It took the persistence of several citizens to get the recording released.

That never should have happened. Citizens have the right to public information and Holton wanted to deny them that right. Thankfully, City Attorney Smith saw through the subterfuge and had Holton produce the record.

(We have no idea how City Clerk Jones feels about this. It cannot be a good feeling to know that one of the Councilmen who can remove her from office lied to her about the existence of record and threw her under the bus. We have all had to work with people who had issues with the truth, and we have to believe that Holton’s lie to Jones strains the relationship between the two even farther.)

In another forum, we asked Councilman Brian Anderson whether he was thinking about the fact that Holton, at the very least, had violated the public trust in lying about the existence of the recording. Anderson never answered us directly, but to other similar questions he repeatedly said that the record was available and that is what matters.

We believe that is hogwash.

We believe that it is important that the public trusts public officials. This is not an argument or discussion over numbers and interpretations of facts. This part of this issue is whether sitting City Councilmen are good with the idea that one of their own broke the law multiple times and lied – flat out lied to the citizens of the City.

Yes, the recording being produced is important, but equal to, or right below that level of importance is the violation of the public trust. Holton lied and as we have shown, he appears to have broken the law several time. (Not to mention the hypocrisy of bringing his out of state mother into a situation when he has always adamantly maintained that his family should not be talked about. Well Mr. Holton, they are being talked about now due to your actions and apparent illegal activities.)

We cannot understand why any other Councilman would be happy with these violation. We go back the oaths taken by younger men and women who enter the US military academies such as the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Naval Academy. Upon entering the academy, each person is required to swear to an oath that says they will not “lie cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”

Apparently some young people have a better idea of morals and ethics than our elected officials.

It is ironic that this Thursday during a regular City Council Meeting, the Council will address and vote upon the special assessments for Unit 31 Roads, the special assessment for Unit 32 Roads, and the special assessment for City Water for Unit 32. (Proposed dollar amounts at the provided links.)

We think the issue of the recording, the lying of Holton’s mother on the petition form, Holton’s part in the conspiracy, and Holton’s violation of the Sunshine law will be discussed as well they should be.

Mayor Capote will not be present at this meeting, which means as the Deputy Mayor, Councilman Holton will be the chair for the meeting. That position holds a lot of power and authority and we fully expect Holton to use the gavel to shut down any dissenting voices that may raise the issues that we have raised here.

The question will then be, “how committed are the other three Councilmen – Santiago, Anderson and Bailey – committed to the truth? How committed are they to members of the Council following the laws of the land?

How committed are they to the public and rebuilding public trust?

Time will tell.

NOTE: The headline was inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s famous quote:

O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!

(spelling in original)


UPDATE: The Palm Bay police have closed their investigation without charges being filed:

Palm Bay Police will not pursue charges of illegal taping involving Holton and his mother

Palm Bay Police said Tuesday night they are no longer investigating accusations that the mother of deputy mayor Tres Holton recorded opponents of a City Council fee hike without their knowledge and a forged a signature on a petition form.

“As of Tuesday, July 31st the investigation has been closed by the Palm Bay Police Department,” the police department said in an e-mailed statement. A police department spokeswoman provided no details on why the case was closed.

One of the individuals who filed the complaint with the police, Thomas Gaume, Holton’s opponent in the upcoming election, said Tuesday he would ask the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department to look into the matter.





4 Responses to “Palm Bay: Holton: O! What A Tangled Web He Weaves. (UPDATED at the bottom of the post)”

  1. Thomas Gaume says:

    It’s a shame that time and time again elected officials get away evading justice by exercising the power of their position.

    That the Deputy Mayor has, and most likely will again target the very Citizen’s he has sworn to serve is disgraceful.

    The Palm Bay Police Department conducted their investigation, but they are not the ultimate decision maker in this process, this will end up in front of a judge one way or another.

  2. Hometown says:

    As an outsider looking in, one troubling aspect of this entire issue is that the only way it was brought into the sunshine was through outside elements of the public and media (including you guys at raisedonhoecakes.com) – a great job at getting the facts out to the rest of us. It seems really sad that our elected officials, boards, and city employees don’t do a better job of stepping up and calling this stuff out immediately, while keeping their constituents informed. When it takes this level of effort from outside elements it kinda makes you wonder what else is going on behind the scenes.

  3. Third Dimension says:

    There are a few of us focusing this public effort to expose what looks, smells, and tastes like corruption into the Sunshine. “There is no better disinfectant than the Sunshine.”
    I am very proud of Thomas Gaume’s efforts, and his tenacity to see this through. I remain in the shadows as to not be accused of bias. For me, this is all about what is right, against the wrong.

    A huge thank you to ROH, whose staff, writers and publishers have gone the extra mile in double checking all facts, ensuring privacy, and maintaining the highest levels of integrity, and accuracy. The fact they always verify state statutes and bring both sides into the discussion needs to be applauded. (for the record, I do not know any member of ROH, as a member of ROH. Their identities are not known by me, or any of my associates and friends)

    This culmination of investigations, work, emails, phone calls, and ingenuity by a few of us is, for one thing, to end the corruption of Palm Bay, and to have honest representatives elected to serve the citizens, not the council and staff of PB.

    I can understand how hard it must be for the staff of ROH, to do the right thing, with no recognition for all the work. But from me to you, ROH, thank you. More people of PB should know they can sleep better because someone is on the wall watching out for you.

    As one of those watchdogs, I feel proud to know we are waking citizens up to the truth, and the Sunshine. All I can ask if you can vote the correct way, and help us end this in the next two election cycles.

    If you would like to run for office, and you have integrity in your soul, and you want to make a difference, reach out to your party leadership, or someone you can trust.

    We can obviously trust, Raised on Hoecakes!

    • AAfterwit says:

      Third Dimension,

      You are making us blush.

      Thank you for your kind words. If you’d like, please tell your friends (and even your enemies) about the site. No one is making money off of it (no advertising) so we are interested in the sharing of ideas.

      Thanks again.

      A. Afterwit.

  4. […] that the public and perhaps a Councilmen or two may bring up and address the issues raised in a Florida Today article and that we discussed yesterday on Holton’s alleged illegal conspiracy and activities in regards to the Sunshine law and the […]

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