Why is candidate Grapski banned from Alachua? Is there a reporter at the Sun?
Compiled by the Editors
July/August 2006

As reported here last month, Florida House Candidate Charlie Grapski was arrested May 1 while looking at public records--ballots--from a city election in Alachua which he was investigating for a lawsuit. He was alleged to have violated the law by tape recording conversations with public officials. It is not even clear that this is illegal. Later, two more charges were brought against Grapski and fellow democracy activist and Alachua resident Michael Canney, who videotaped another interaction between Grapski and an Alachua city official.

On June 30, The Gainesville Sun reported that Grapski had been banned from Alachua (except to go home, since he lives there.) The ban followed two Alachua City Commission meetings where Grapski objected to the use of the consent agenda' at the beginning of the meeting to vote on city business without public comment . Items on the consent agenda included accepting a report from the canvassing board in the very city election that Grapski and others allege in their lawsuit was conducted illegally.

In the second meeting, Grapski was dragged out of the meeting after refusing to allow the 'consent agenda' to be passed without public comment. Since there was no time alotted for public comment, Grapski made his remarks over the objections of Mayor Jean Calderwood, who demanded that he be removed for "disrupting the meeting." Grapski's judge on the earlier 'taping' charges, Peter Sieg, banned Grapski from Alachua as a condition of his continuing release from jail.

Some of this was mentioned in the story. But what wasn't mentioned was why so many people are up in arms about how the City of Alachua is conducting its business, and why city officials are so bothered by critics that they have to have them dragged out of meetings or arrested on arguably bogus charges.

Surely somewhere at the Gainesville Sun there is one reporter who could take it upon themselves to investigate the allegations of misconduct of the Alachua City elections. They could start by reading the High Springs Herald coverage, the lawsuit itself, and then interview Michael Canney and Charlie Grapski. Michael Canney's number is 386-418-3791.

To warm them to the task, they could read Canney's open letter to the Alachua City Commission, reprinted here:
"As I am sure you are aware, I have joined a lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, alleging official misconduct in Alachua's April 11 city commission election, and I want the elected officials and citizens of this community to know why I decided this course of action was necessary and appropriate.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found at:
www.freealachua.org

After witnessing the canvassing of the April 11 election at Alachua City Hall, I and others became concerned that Florida Statutes had not been followed in the supervision of the election, and we decided to conduct an inquiry into the facts and circumstances of that election.

The citizens' inquiry into the election ran into trouble immediately, as we tried to gain access to public records in Alachua City Hall. I witnessed the arrest of Florida House of Representatives candidate Charles Grapski in City Hall chambers, as he sat attempting to inspecting the absentee ballot records related to the election.

Clovis Watson Jr., as city manager and city clerk, is a member of the Canvassing Board that supervised the April 11 election, and in that capacity he is a named defendant in the election lawsuit.

But Watson also holds the title of Police Commissioner, Alachua's top law enforcement official, and in that capacity he charged Grapski with a third degree felony, personally signing the arrest report.

This abuse of police powers, which reportedly had the full support of the mayor, indicates something is terribly wrong in Alachua City Hall.

Grapski stands accused of "illegal recording" but Watson's account of what happened during the incident in question has been challenged by Grapski, and ironically Grapski's recording appears to corroborate Grapski's account.

Criminal complaints of "illegal recording" were also filed against me by city staff, and I have been told I could be arrested at any time if the State Attorney decides to prosecute.

When I discovered that criminal complaints had been filed against me by the city, I made my decision to join the election lawsuit as a plaintiff and do whatever I can to expose the violations of election law that took place in Alachua.

The right of voters to a secret ballot and to a fair and honest election should be held sacred by all citizens, and if these rights are violated by our public officials, we have a duty to hold them accountable. It brings shame upon our community when citizens are forced to defend themselves from politically motivated criminal charges, clearly intended to intimidate and discourage them from conducting an inquiry and holding government officials accountable to the law.

There is at least the appearance of a serious conflict of interest here, as officials named as defendants in litigation alleging misconduct in the election have been directly engaged in blocking access to public records related to the election.

They have also been directly involved in bringing criminal charges against the citizens investigating the allegations in the lawsuit in which they are named as defendants. This blatant attempt to criminalize our lawful actions as citizens must end, and it must end now.

I ask the city of Alachua to contact the State Attorney's office and request that all charges against me and Charlie Grapski be dropped. I also ask the city of Alachua to direct its city clerk to cooperate fully with all public records request pertaining to the April 11 city commission election."--Michael Canney, Alachua.

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