State Attorney's Office investigating Jacksonville City Council members

Investigation appears to be triggered by possible Sunshine Law violations

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two members of the Jacksonville City Council appear to be the focus of an ethics investigation by the State Attorney's Office, the News4Jax I-TEAM learned Wednesday.

The I-TEAM was told the investigation centers on possible violations of the Florida Sunshine Law and that two council members have accused each other of ethics violations.

City Councilman Matt Schellenberg said he was questioned by investigators, but is not the target of the investigation. He said he spoke to two detectives last week -- one from the State Attorney's Office and one from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

"They had 10 different questions all related to the Sunshine Law, Schellenberg said. "(They asked) if I had violated it, if I had known of anybody that violated it, if I had heard rumors about anybody violating (it) and did I think that there's a group that might have violated it. I didn't know any of that stuff."

Schellenberg said the detectives also asked to look at his email and phone records, and they asked him to sign a piece of paper indicating he was being truthful.

News4Jax reached out to the State Attorney's Office for comment on the investigation. It issued a statement reading:

Our office does not comment on investigations and it does not identify the target of any investigation.

The Sunshine Law is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to the public records of governmental bodies in Florida.
It applies to any gathering of two or more members of the same board to discuss some matter which may come before that board for action. It requires that:

  • Meetings of boards or commissions must be open to the public 
  • Reasonable notice of such meetings must be given
  • Minutes of the meeting must be taken.

News4Jax reported in May that City Council President Aaron Bowman, who at the time was vice president, accused Councilman Garrett Dennis of speaking negatively to other members about Bowman's run for council president. Bowman said he heard about it from four unnamed council members.

In return, Dennis accused Bowman of a violation, saying Bowman talked about it with those four council members. Schellenberg said he's aware of a disagreement between the two but not much else.

"I do know there were some conversations months ago about each accusing each other about it, but I was unfamiliar with it," Schellenberg said. "I think that being accused of something like this is a very serious violation of the Sunshine Law."

News4Jax reached out to Bowman, Dennis for comment but did not immediately hear back.

When questioned about the investigation, the Jacksonville Ethics Commission issued a statement reading:

Per Florida law, any complaints filed with the Jacksonville Ethics Commission are confidential and  exempt from the Public Records law. At a point in any such case, the records do become public. We do not confirm whether we have, or do not have, any specific complaint. That is our standing office policy.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.