Organization files suit against Orange County over missing, deleted emails

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A grassroots organization filed a lawsuit Friday against Orange County commissioners over missing or deleted emails.

Those emails center around a recent controversial decision concerning a paid sick time ballot measure, and the group said they want to know if there's been a cover-up.

While the lawsuit filed against Orange County may have started during the sick time initiative vote, it has nothing to do with that and has everything to do with making sure elected officials do not do official business in secret, according to Channel 9's Jorge Estevez.

A recent news conference was designed to draw attention to a possible violation of public records laws as commissioners were listening to arguments about the sick time initiative.

Volunteers spent months getting the 50,000 signatures needed to put it on the November ballot.

"The entire time they are looking at us and listening to us, their fingers are going underneath their text on their text phone," said volunteer Paul Heroux. "At that point, you realize your voice is not as important as invisible people."

The group, Citizens for a Greater Orange County, said they feel some of those people who made secret contact with commissioners may have influenced their votes.

According to the suit, it is believed that elected officials had conversations with lobbyists, who then had conversations with other elected officials, letting them know the other's thoughts in an attempt to possibly influence their vote. In essence, those elected officials would have used the lobbyist to share those opionions, in what could be considered a private meeting. If that was the case, it would have been illegal.

The issue became bigger when the request for the messages uncovered some commissioners saying they had accidentally deleted them.

"The question becomes, when did they delete it? Who told them to delete it? Was there a consorted effort to delete them?" said attorney Scott Randolph.

The lawsuit against the county was filed in an effort to clear things up, Estevez said.

"It is something that should be ignited within all of us, to take a stand and do something about it and stop things like this from happening again," said volunteer Tatiana Torres.

Throughout the process, some of the commissioners have changed their stories, first saying they had no communications, then saying they did, finally releasing some of those communications.

The county attorney has said he will continue to hand over more texts or messages as they get more information from commissioners.