In honor of Sunshine Week 2010, the First Amendment Foundation has created the Sunshine Brigade, a loosely-organized coalition of open government and citizen activists who have been chosen for membership because of their commitment to government oversight and holding government accountable for its actions.
We asked Foundation members to nominate local citizen activists for induction into the Brigade and currently there are Brigaders from all over Florida. Below you can read a short profile of each member with a brief description of the types of open government issues most important to each. For those Brigaders with blogs, we have included a link to the blog and will soon provide a link that will allow anyone wanting help or assistance to e-mail Brigade members.
Michael J. Barnes
Michael is currently a human resources consultant and mediator. He was raised primarily in Okaloosa County, Florida. Michael graduated from Lakenheath American High School in Suffolk, United Kingdom. He possesses a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting from Tuskegee University and obtained a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma. Michael received his commissioned as a Second Lieutenant (USAF) at Tuskegee University—a Distinguished Military Graduate. His military career spanned over 20 years as a logistician at the tactical, operational and strategic levels to include a NATO staff officer position. He served a quarter of his military career assigned to the Pentagon before retiring as an Evaluator in the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Defense (DoDIG), in Washington, DC as a Lieutenant Colonel. He led several local community service organizations to include Board President of Okaloosa Citizens Alliance. His trademarks are holding elected and public officials accountable and helping to maintain an efficient government. He strongly believes the public trust mandates unquestionable ethics in our public servants. Michael resides in Fort Walton Beach, FL.
Sharon Barnett, a sole practitioner litigating public interest issues, was born in Washington, D.C., and is a graduate of Wake Forest University and Vanderbilt University Law School. Before entering private practice, Sharon served as Assistant General Counsel to the Florida Department of Banking and Finance and as law clerk to U.S. Magistrate Thomas G. Wilson, Middle District of Florida.
Sharon is active in her community and has served on the Florida Bar Standing Committee on Advertising and on the boards of the League of Women Voters, the Northwest Florida Ballet, the West Florida Mental Health Association. She was also a citizen board member of the Pensacola News Journal.
Sharon and her husband, Russell Edgar, have three children and live in Pensacola, FL.
Mark Benson sold Benson's Inc., a community association management company, in 2006 and retired a year later. He served as chair of Governor Crist's Florida Community Association Living Study Council of the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes. Mark has been honored with various other legislative and gubernatorial appointments, including a seat on the Regulatory Council of Community Association Managers and the Advisory Council on Condominiums.
Benson is a member of the Fort Myers News-Press "Team Watchdog," an advisory and investigative group working as a public service, and has over 30 years experience in participation, administration, and management of community associations. He lives in Fort Myers, FL.
Michael Butler has worked for a major US-based distribution company for more than 18 years in various capacities. In his current position, he is the East Region Vice President for Food Processing.
He is an active member of several local community organizations, including Leadership Broward (Class XXVII), the City of Hallandale Beach Planning and Zoning Board, and the Golden Isles Homeowner’s Association Board of Directors.
In addition, Mr. Butler manages www.ChangeHallandale.com, a website dedicated to disseminating information to tax payers and residents regarding the city's use of tax dollars. As a result of one of his public records request, the city sued him. While the Broward Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the city, the case is currently under appeal in Florida's 4th District Court of Appeals.
The Broward New Times named Mike Butler the 2011 "Gadfly of the Year" with the following:
Enter any discussion about Hallandale Beach's city government and you'll find yourself surrounded by bickering. Taxes are going up and parks are going to ruin while the city manager makes a cool half-million a year. Mayor Joy Cooper is a polarizing figure, to put it nicely (she's one of the loudest boosters for red-light cameras), and Commissioner Keith London seems bent on making her life hell. Into all this enters Mike Butler, a soft-spoken, well-tanned resident who looks like he wandered off a yacht and into City Hall, where he relentlessly questions the city's business deals and posts damning information on his blog. "Mike Butler doesn't shoot from the hip; he shoots the facts," quips London, who often circulates Butler's posts at City Commission meetings. He doesn't look like your typical gadfly, and he doesn't shout like your typical Hallandalian. Which is, all in all, for the best.
Mike Butler holds a BBA degree in International Business with German and Biology minors from James Madison University.
Jerry D. Couey
Jerry Couey, a "simple man very much like Howard Beale," was born and raised in Milton, FL, and has worked offshore for an energy company for the past 30 years. A citizen activist, Jerry operates a community website, www.santaraosaspeaks.com, and has his own cable television show, Mediacom Santa Rosa Week.
Working with Brigade member Alan Isaacson, Couey fought to ensure that the local economic development agency, TEAM Santa Rosa, complied with Florida's sunshine laws, and filed a complaint with the state's attorney which resulted in an investigative report finding that TEAM Santa Rosa was subject to both the public records law and the open meetings. Jerry is also credited with changes in email and social networking policies in both Santa Rosa County and Escambia County which prohibit the use of private email and social networking sites can’t be used for public business. Couey continues to fight on, now working to bring change to Florida's open meetings law to specifically provide citizens with the right to speak at all public meetings.
Jerry, a proud member of the Sunshine Brigade, and his wife Carolyn live in Milton, FL.
Brian Creekbaum is a native and longtime resident of Ocala in Marion County. Brian headed an informal citizens group that received the 2001 Intellectual Freedom Award of the Florida Library Association for its opposition to censorship of the public library collection in Marion County. He used Florida’s open government laws extensively in connection with this issue.
In 2009, Brian was an early, publicly vocal critic of the process the Marion County Board of County Commissioners used to hire a county administrator, a process that later resulted in a grand jury investigation and presentment without indictment in which the grand jury condemned the hiring process in "the strongest possible terms" for its inconsistency with the spirit of Florida’s Sunshine Law. The grand jury made recommendations for change.
In support of his citizen activism on numerous issues involving public agencies in Marion County, Brian has used Florida’s open government laws for meeting access and to obtain a wide array of public records concerning elections, government finance, judicial proceedings, law enforcement, public officers and employees, real property, and meetings of governing bodies and advisory boards.
A long-time resident of Jupiter, FL, and a graduate of Wake Forest University, Anna Current has been actively involved in keeping area property owners up-to-date on actions that affect their properties. "Sounding the alert" began in 1998, when the Town filed a "finding of slum and blight conditions" for the most valuable waterfront properties in Jupiter. The finding would have allowed the Town to take the waterfront property under eminent domain laws, but fortunately property owners were able to thwart the action and these properties became the first Community Redevelopment district (CRA) in Northern Palm Beach County.
In 2002, Anna founded Jupiter Citizens for Property Rights and became its Executive Director. Two years later, she challenged the Town's failure to follow statutorily-required advertising for zoning changes, representing herself pro se through most of the administrative hearing phase of the case. That same year, the Jupiter property rights group was successful in amending proposed regulations that would have had a draconian effect on properties over 50 years old.
For two years, the Institute for Justice invited Anna to attend the Castle Coalition Conference in Washington, DC. This nationwide property rights grassroots activism project teaches property and small business owners how to protect themselves and stand up to the greedy governments and developers.
Anna has been a volunteer Law Clerk for the Pacific Legal Foundation at the Atlantic Center in Stuart, Florida. It is the oldest public interest legal organization that fights for limited government, property rights, individual rights, and a balanced approach to environmental protection.
Ken Cyrus is a retired attorney, having engaged in private practice in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and served as a district court special judge for Okmulgee County, Oklahoma. Cyrus was an attorney with The Upjohn Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and later worked for Pharmacia & Upjohn, successor to the Upjohn Company, in various capacities, including Executive Vice President and General Counsel and Secretary in Windsor, Great Britain.
Ken and his wife Shirley live in Bonita Springs, FL.
Mike Driscoll was born and raised in New York City. He joined the Navy after graduating from high school and served over 33 years on active duty. One of his tours of duty brought him to Key West, and on retiring, Mike and his wife, Suzanne Runnels, returned to Key West where they live with their shelter-rescued German Sheppard, Turk the Wonder Dog.
Mike is a proud member of the Patriot Guard Riders, who show respect for our nation’s fallen heroes, their families, and Moore’s Marauders, an organization that conducts expeditions around the world looking for and finding remains of that have been declared missing in action.
Active in his community, Driscoll is a member of the First Amendment Foundation’ s Sunshine Brigade; Veterans of Foreign Wars; Disabled American Veterans; the Non- Commissioned Officers Association; Senior Enlisted Academy Alumni Association; and the Surface Navy Association. He also is a member of the Key West Military Affairs Committee, Key West Maritime Historical Society, Navy League, Fleet Reserve Association, and American Legion, and an associate member of the Fraternal Order of Underwater Swimmers School, Key West, Florida, and a City of Key West Ambassador.
Driscoll has earned a career certificate in Corrections and holds a Bachelors Degree in History/Government. He is a certified SCUBA diver and a licensed U.S. Merchant Marine Officer.
Casey Hewlett graduated cum laude from the University of South Florida in 2001 with a B.A. in Anthropology. He received his M.A. in Communication (specializing in Rhetoric, Cultural Studies, and Performance Studies) from USF in 2003. He has spent much of his career performing various roles in the retail industry while attempting to land a position that would allow him to merge his creative talents with his analytical skills. In 2010, he completed a Certificate program at USF in Web Design.
In December 2010, Casey joined the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce (now the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce) as an independent web designer. In February 2011, he completed his first commercial project for Sergio's Restaurant, of Zephyrhills, FL. He has established his own business enterprise, WebVellum Web Design and Marketing, and is currently working with small and mid-sized businesses to develop business web solutions. He has also volunteered his professional expertise on several occasions to assist the faculty and staff at Woodland Elementary School, located in Zephyrhills, and other not-for-profit organizations.
Casey’s blog can be found at hewlett0com.wordpress.com/.
Alan Isaacson, an ordained Minister with the Assemblies of God and Senior Pastor of New Harvest Fellowship, became interested in open government issues after learning that two people who made the same public records request for documents related to a local option sales tax (LOST) referendum received different responses and decided to make his own request.
He asked the county attorney for the email correspondence of all county commissioners for a three month period, provided a disc and, having served as System Coordinator of a Navy's 80 million dollar computer system, offered to assist with fulfilling his own request. In obtaining the records, Isaacson found evidence of back door politics, misrepresentation to the citizens on how the LOST funds were to be utilized, and the use of taxpayer funding to assist a Political Action Committee efforts in support of the tax.
Since then, Alan has worked with the county attorney to streamline requests for public record emails, and along with his friend and fellow Sunshine Brigade member Jerry Couey, helped bring TEAM Santa Rosa, a local quasi-governmental entity established to direct economic development efforts for the county, into compliance with Florida’s sunshine laws.
Alan still remains active and has turned his attention toward other boards that may not fully be aware of their responsibilities concerning the state’s open government laws. With the help of the First Amendment Foundation and other Sunshine Brigade members, Alan is hopeful that other concerned citizens throughout the State can get the help needed to keep their local governments in the "Sunshine".
Alan and his wife Tina have two children and live in Pace, Florida.
Theo Karantsalis is the associate director of Learning Resources at Miami Dade College's Meek Center in Liberty City.
Theo has decades of experience wrestling information from federal agencies that include the Pentagon, Department of Defense, Air Force, and others. In 2011, he lost a high-profile case before the U.S. Court of Appeals, in Atlanta, after the U.S. Marshals Service refused to release mug shot photos.
Through a popular Internet research class, Theo teaches students how to access information using public and private databases. He also conducts college workshops on citation standards, research strategies, privacy, encryption, and social media.
A graduate of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Theo was awarded a bronze medal after 9/11 from the Department of Homeland Security, in Washington, D.C., for superior service in protecting the public.
As a hobby, Theo freelances for several newspapers including The Miami Herald and enjoys writing historical and civic features related to Miami's inner city.
Theo holds two masters degrees, one in information science from Florida State University, the other in liberal arts from the University of Miami.
He lives in Miami with his wife, Diana, and two boys, Demos and Spiro.
Fane Lozman has been fighting to uphold the Sunshine Law since 2003.
After college, Fane served a tour of duty as an officer and pilot in the United State Marine Corps. He then moved to Chicago and worked as a floor trader/broker at the three major Chicago commodity and options exchanges. While in Chicago, Fane invented and patented Scanshift, a financial display software program. As computers replaced floor trading, Fane moved to South Florida, purchased a floating home, and lived on it in a South Florida marina looking forward to a life of sun and fun. At this point, Fane became involved in a fight against corrupt elected officials, and his efforts resulted in the arrests of a number of public officials in North Bay Village, Florida, two for criminal violations of the Sunshine Law. Fane subsequently became an advocate for enforcing the Sunshine Law in the two communities where he lived, North Bay Village and then Riviera Beach.
In addition to the two criminal violations, Fane has had a number of successes in the civil area as well. Most significant was a legal action based on a failure to give reasonable notice of a City council meeting; the sunshine law violation was key in preventing the city of Riviera Beach from enforcing a contract that would have allowed the seizure of thousands of homes and businesses via eminent domain to give to a private developer – an action planned by the city to take place just one day prior to Governor Bush signing a new State eminent domain law that prohibited that action. He also won a case that made its way all the way to the 4th District Court of Appeals affirming that written minutes must be taken at any city council meeting. The city of Riviera Beach spent over $125,000 in legal fees arguing that written minutes of its council meetings were not required and that the Sunshine Law had been misinterpreted by every municipality except them. Fortunately, the Appellate Court scoffed at their argument and required that written minutes be taken.
Dave “Watchdog” Miner, a Vietnam War Veteran, is an attorney licensed in Florida and Michigan. A former assistant city attorney, county attorney, and state attorney, Miner has been a solo practitioner in Bradenton since 1978. He has served on numerous boards, including president of the Amherst College Alumni Association of SW Florida; director of the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform; governor, Region IV, of the Florida Association of School Advisory Councils; president of the Manatee Children’s Services; treasurer of Manatee County Healthy Start; and secretary of the Excelsior Education and Training Foundation.
A lifetime member of the VFW, Miner is also a member of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, and the Marine Corps League. He received the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Drum Major for Justice award, and is the principal author of “Truth in Testing – Parents Right to Know Act” and “Taxpayers Right to Know Act.”
Dave lives in Bradenton, FL.
Sue lives in Polk County, FL.
Dave Parisot was born in Illinois, and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after finishing college. He was on active duty with the USAF for 21 years, and after retirement, earned a master’s degree in business administration and became a small business owner. He and his wife, Chong (Kim), have three children, numerous grandchildren, and live in Shalimar, FL.
Active in his community, Parisot is a charter member of the Okaloosa Citizens Alliance, and was the recipient of OCA’s 2008 Special Service Award. A Life Charter Member of the Military Officers Association of American, Dave is also a member of the Okaloosa Republican Club and of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. He is a volunteer at the Children in Crisis Center in Fort Walton Beach and is a volunteer at the Shalimar Library, where he served on the Board of Directors for four years.
Judy has lived in Central Florida and has been a small business owner for over 30 years. She is active in her City and County governments; having served on the following City Boards: the Land Planning Agency, The Code Enforcement Board, and The Historic Preservation Board; and on the County Trails and Natural Lands Committee, and the Citizen's Advisory Committee to Metro Plan Orlando. She also has been an officer and past president of the Private Business Association of Seminole County, a group of small business owners who explore issues important to small businesses. In 2004 she earned the Key to The City in recognition of her contributions. Judy is married, has a degree in Business Administration from Governors State University, with graduate work at the University of Central Florida, and lives in Longwood, Florida. She believes strongly in citizen oversight of government and is a big fan of the First Amendment Foundation.
Bill Samples, Florida Marine Life Coalition
The Florida Marine Life Coalition is dedicated to the protection and preservation of all marine like and fishermen’s rights for harvesting, collecting, and distributing tropical marine life, and providing information to our industry.
The FMLC offers meetings and programs throughout the year to further the goals and ambitions of all commercially active tropical marine life collectors and distributors in South Florida, the United States, and around the world.
Mario Sánchez is a life-long Florida resident, holds an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Computer Science and writes for the Marco Island Blog (marcoislandblog.blogspot.com).
As a citizen watchdog, Mario has documented the environmental problems on Marco Island, including the crushing, dumping, burial, and illegal removal of asbestos, and has recorded the pumping of millions of gallons of toxic effluent pumped into the waterways and Gulf of Mexico by the City. As part of his investigation of these potential crimes and in his attempt to bring those city staff, councilors, contractors, and conspirators at the FDEP to justice, he has made numerous public record requests. Sánchez has successfully sued the EPA under the federal Freedom of Information Act which led to the release of numerous documents proving the city of Marco Island violated the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act—for which the City was fined.
Sánchez lives on Marco Island, FL.
Chaz Stevens was voted the 2010 New Times Broward Palm Beach Activist of the Year and his political muckraking has led to the jailing of three local politicians.
Prosecutors secretly admire him. Defense attorneys openly loathe him. And followers of Broward politics can’t seem to get enough of him. - Dan Chang, Miami Herald
Chaz Stevens is the face of the new media. He is the new version of a city hall gadfly– electronically empowered, fighting the power structure with bits and bytes. - Buddy Nevins, Broward Beat
Once upon a time, activists and gadflies could be laughed off by politicians. No more. With the reach and permanence of the Internet on their side, activists can investigate wrongdoing and post damning documents on self-published blogs. Activist Chaz Stevens has been a one-man wrecking crew. - Michael Mayo, Sun-Sentinel
A former Commissioner for the Deerfield Beach Housing Authority, Stevens is also a very proud supporter of Amnesty International and Women in Distress.
Chaz graduated from Florida Tech with a degree in Applied Mathematics, but these days finds himself writing books, articles, and of course, his blog.
Living in Deerfield Beach with his yellow lab, can find his writing at MyActsOfSedition.com .
Carroll Swanson, retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency, U. S. Department of Defense, lives in Fort Myers, FL, and served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He has experience in imagery analysis, automated systems design and implementation, administrative management, and budget planning and execution. With a Bachelor’s Degree in English from the University of Iowa and a Master’s Degree in Technology Management from American University, Carroll is interested in transportation issues and budget accountability and transparency. He also believes that personal responsibility and integrity are imperative for government officials and public employees.