Thursday, August 29, 2013

Brevard Clerk of Court Sues Economic Development Commission For BlueWare Documents

BREVARD COUNTY, Florida -- Brevard County Clerk of Court Scott Ellis filed a lawsuit today against the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast (EDC) which seeks a Circuit Court judge's order that the EDC hand over its documents regarding BlueWare.   

BlueWare is the company caught up in a public corruption criminal case brought by Florida State Attorney Phil Archer against former Clerk of Court Mitch Needelman, his former business partner Matt Dupree, and BlueWare CEO Rose Harr

The EDC had helped BlueWare and some of its affiliated companies to qualify for various government programs and other "workforce incentives" that could have totaled at least $1.31 million from the State of Florida, plus a local match of somewhere between $250k to $350k from the City of Melbourne and Brevard County.   None of those incentives were ultimately awarded to BlueWare because it did not meet its performance benchmarks.

After the Clerk's office learned from a Brevard Times investigative article published on August 26, 2013 that State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity officials said the BlueWare's confidentiality had lapsed and Governor Rick Scott's Office said the BlueWare incentive contract was canceled on April 5, 2013, the Clerk sent his auditors to the EDC in Rockledge the next day to request a copy of the EDC file on BlueWare.  The Clerk alleges in the lawsuit that the EDC then refused to comply with the public records request made by his auditors or provide a current reason why the documents would be exempt from Florida's public records laws.

Additionally, the Clerk alleges that BlueWare's "purported" request to the EDC in January 2013 for an extra year of confidentiality failed to meet the statutory criteria because BlueWare was not "actively considering locating, relocating, or expanding its business" since BlueWare had already located its business headquarters in Melbourne.

Last week, the Brevard County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to request that the EDC relinquish its documents regarding BlueWare to the Clerk.

Also today, the EDC filed an action in Brevard County County Court which seeks a declaratory judgment as to whether or not the BlueWare documents should remain confidential.


According to an EDC press release, the EDC's decision "supports the recommendation of County Attorney Scott Knox" who wrote in an advisory opinion to the Couny last week that "The declaratory judgment action might be an option the EDC wants to consider should any person requesting the records insist that they be made available immediately."  

Knox advised the County that the documents could be considered confidential because they are now part of a criminal investigation after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement subpoenaed the documents from the EDC and that BlueWare had requested an extension for confidentiality in January 2013.

The EDC added in the release that if it turns over its files at this time as requested, it could face fines and up to six months in jail.

"We believe we have complied with the Florida statute and look forward to the court clarifying our interpretation of the law," said EDC President and CEO Lynda Weatherman. 

Editor's Note: The Brevard Times received an email from the Clerk's office announcing the lawsuit at 4:24 p.m. on Thursday and did not get wind of the EDC's announcement until afterwards.  According to an e-mail sent by Lynda Weatherman to the EDC's Board of Directors earlier that day, of which FLORIDA TODAY belongs:

"As a valued member of the EDC Board of Directors, we wanted to be sure you were the first to know about some steps we've taken today in connection with the BlueWare records request...

...Please review the attached news release, which we plan to send out this afternoon, for additional details. We wanted to be sure you were informed before we made our actions public."

Had the EDC sent the announcement to the Brevard Times earlier, its statements could have been blended more evenly in the article rather than added as an after-thought and the headline might have also been altered.