St. Johns County commission sued over Pride proclamation

Federal lawsuit accuses board’s chair of violating resident’s First & Fourteenth Amendment rights

Federal lawsuit accuses board’s chair of violating resident’s First & Fourteenth Amendment rights.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A St. Augustine resident is suing the St. Johns County Commission over its refusal to consider a bill recognizing the county’s LGBTQ+ community, saying the board’s decision infringes on residents’ constitutional rights.

The federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Jacksonville argues that the county commission violated residents’ rights to freedom of speech and equal protection under the law by rejecting the proclamation because the board chairman viewed its content as too “controversial.”

The complaint also accuses the board of violating Florida’s Sunshine Law, which requires that public business be conducted in the open and with the public’s knowledge.

The lawsuit stems from a March 8 request made by resident Sara Bloomberg, who sent an email to County Commissioner Henry Dean to discuss a proclamation showing support for the LGBTQ+ community. The complaint said Dean seemed receptive and indicated he’d bring the matter up with county staff.

Seven weeks passed before the county followed up on the request. The suit said on April 28 Bloomberg got a phone call from a county employee, saying the board would not consider the proclamation because Chairman Jeremiah Blocker “felt it was too ‘controversial’ and ‘left-leaning.’”

“Chairman Blocker holds beliefs antithetical to the fair and equal protection of the LGBTQ Americans and their rights and seeks to impose these beliefs upon St. Johns County residents through his personal power as Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners,” the lawsuit states.

Bloomberg — who helped found House of Prism, a nonprofit that aims to empower LGBTQ+ youth — said Thursday they were told the issue was too partisan for the commissioners, who are “centrist” and prefer to avoid matters that are “too far left” or “too far right.”

Attorney Rook Ringer (left) and her client, Sara Bloomberg (right), are suing the St. Johns County Board of Commissioners. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

“This is not a left or right issue. It is not a Republican or a Democratic or independent or libertarian issue,” Bloomberg told News4Jax. “This is a human rights issue.”

Blocker did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

“The county is reviewing the court filing and will respond through the legal process,” said St. Johns County Attorney Patrick McCormack, who had no further comment.

Citing case law upholding the public’s right to know of and have a say in public business, the lawsuit argues that the county commission circumvented the Sunshine Law by denying Bloomberg’s request to put the proclamation on a public meeting agenda.

The suit goes on to say that the board failed to keep “proper public records of official decisions” by “communicating this decision through a phone call and deliberately avoiding any ‘paper trail’ of this unlawful decision.”

Attorney Rook Ringer, who represents Bloomberg, said the county’s handling of her client’s request is a violation of Florida’s open records law. “There’s a reason that you have to make these decisions with an audience or at least in the public with a transcript,” Ringer said.

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that Bloomberg’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. It also calls for a judge to require the board to hold a public hearing on the LGBTQ Pride Proclamation and to award attorney’s fees to Bloomberg.

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