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Lake City News

City Attorney Finds Council Appointment Of Sylvester Warren to P&Z Unconstitutional, Then Keeps His Opinion Out of the Public Eye.

City Attorney Todd Kennon with headline: City Attorney Todd Kennon. He knew Sylvester Warren's appointment to the P&Z was unconstitutional. He never mentioned it.

LAKE CITY, FL – Monday evening’s June 5 City Council meeting had the Council acting on a resolution to remove community activist and businessman Sylvester Warren from his recent appointment to the City Planning & Zoning Board. The issue was not complicated: the Florida Constitution, Article 6, section 4 is clear: (a) No person convicted of a felony...shall be qualified to vote or hold office until restoration of civil rights...

The run-up to Monday’s meeting was covered in Part I: Lake City Florida: Another Popcorn Night Coming Up. This Time It's the P&Z. Will the Council Follow City Manager Dyal and Remove Sylvester Warren?

The wording on the City resolution to remove Mr. Warren from the P&Z was crystal clear. In relevant part, it states: since being appointed, the City Administration has determined that Warren is unable to serve on the Board; and the City Council, based on the recommendation of the City Administration, finds that it is in the best interest of the City to rescind the appointment.

After publishing this article, the Lake City Reporter article and opinion piece was reviewed. The LCR piled on the City Council while at the same time giving the City Attorney a free pass. Unreported was the fact that City Council members, other than Councilman Jernigan, did not know the contents of Attorney Kennon's opinion, an opinion never articulated at the meeting and one which Mr. Kennon recommended not be included with the agenda, keeping it out of the public eye.

Mr. Kennon's proclamation that he didn't know that Mr. Warren was a convicted felon was not reported, and as likely as he didn't know that Babe Ruth was a baseball player. (Eye On updated 1:32 am, 6/8)

City Manager Paul Dyal has made it clear, and Councilman Jernigan has opined that City Manager Dyal is in charge and is the voice of the City Administration.

The City Charter supports Mr. Dyal’s and Mr. Jernigan’s positions: “He [City Manager] shall make such recommendations to the council concerning the affairs of the city as he deems desirable.”

The City Clerk works for the City Council and is not part of the City Administration. (This is the separation of powers). The City Clerk gives notice of council meetings to its members and the public. The City Council assigns duties to the City Clerk. The Clerk’s duties are spelled out in the City Charter.

The City Attorney is not part of the City Administration. The City Attorney is a contract position controlled by the City Charter and hired by the City Council. Like the City Clerk, the City Attorney works for the City Council.

Who Knew About City Attorney Kennon’s Legal Opinion Concerning Mr. Warren's Appointment, And Why Wasn’t It Made Part of the Agenda?

link to email from Todd Kennon's legal assistantUnknown to most of the City Council and all of the public, City Attorney Todd Kennon’s legal assistant, Alysha Jenkins, sent his legal opinion to the Clerk’s Office on Friday afternoon, June 2, 2023, four hours before Monday’s June 5 agenda was published and circulated.

Deputy Clerk Michele Cannon spoke with Ms. Jenkins concerning Attorney Kennon’s opinion on Mr. Warren’s appointment. Ms. Cannon was told to “just send” the opinion to the Council members.

link to Todd Kennon's legan opinionAccording to City Clerk Audrey Sikes, her understanding was City Attorney Kennon did not want his opinion ("Report to Council") to be added to the agenda material. It wasn’t.

While not the Attorney’s call, Ms. Sikes respected his wishes.

Other than Councilman Jernigan, who stated during the Council meeting that he had read the opinion, it appeared that none of the other Council members had read it or even seen it.

The public did not become aware of the City Attorney’s opinion until after Monday’s meeting was gaveled to order.

What Happened Monday Evening?
Your Elected Representatives In Action

At 6 pm, Mayor Witt gaveled the City Council meeting to order.

On the evening’s agenda was item 19, the resolution removing Mr. Warren from the P&Z.

When it came time to approve the agenda, Councilwoman Chevella Young recommended that the item be removed unless the Council saw otherwise to address it.

Ms. Young said [abridged],

 “This Council has already voted on this item…I see there's nothing attached as to why we're here. I was told that it did say that was a public records request, and that's why we're here today. But I've seen no attachment. And we're not in the business of entertaining foolishness… If we don't see it in writing, we don't have time to address it... We can pursue serious business. The way I take it is that the Council -- that’s what's happening here -- is that they’re undermining -- scheming to undermine the decision of the Council. The Council has made the decision. And if no one comes to that podium, or we don't have in writing why is this being requested, then we don't need to entertain it?”

Councilman Sampson seconded the motion.

Mayor Witt said he had spoken with Mr. Kennon about the Warren issue. “And he said he can ask for, if it's our pleasure, an Attorney General's Opinion," which may clarify the issue.

Mayor Witt did not mention that Mr. Warren's appointment to the P&Z was unconstitutional. If he knew, the Mayor was not talking.

Without being recognized, City Attorney Kennon began to speak, “I can give you a brief summary of what happened…." Mr. Kennon was interrupted by Councilman Hill.

Councilman Hill said,

“I take this personal. If the face of this Council was different, we wouldn't be here. If the face of this Council would have made this recommendation, there’d be nothin’ said. But since the Council looks the way it looks now -- there is the problem. Mr. Warren have again served the time. He done what he's supposed to do. This position is not a payin' position. He's volunteering. I think that he would do a great job in this position, because a lot of backdoor stuff that I think has been going on in the past -- it won’t happen. I know he's a contractor, whatever. But I think he would do this job with…."

Attorney Kennon goes tit-for-tat and cuts off Councilman Hill mid-sentence.

Mr. Kennon said,

“My only comment is when it came to my attention that there may be an issue of someone with a felony conviction that had not had all of their civil rights restored, as my client, I felt like the City Council needed to know what the law was. And so, I researched the issue. And I'm willin’ to provide my results. They’re in the report to Council, and other than that, then I don't have anything else to add."

The City Attorney never provided his "results." Mr. Kennon's, "I don't have anything to add," was short lived.

Councilman Todd Sampson weighed in,

 “I don't think the Council should be in the business of affairs of people. And one thing, I did not vote for this, to begin with, but Mr. Warren's never hidden anything in his background… It's very clear. We have vetted this application twice, not once, but twice. If he could not serve, it should have come up before this point. It should have been when the application was brought forward. So to me, unless there's some other reason it has to be there, I seconded the motion that we remove this from the agenda."

Councilwoman Young jumped in without asking for permission to speak, again saying she did not have a problem with Mr. Warren, adding,

“We’re in 2023. We have to stop looking at a person because they have a felony conviction… It is what it is. And let's stop looking at a person by their background and look at them for how they can serve us today.”

Councilman Ricky Jernigan asked the Mayor to be recognized and weighed in, explaining that he had read the City Attorney’s “notes or minutes.” It appeared Councilman Jernigan was the only one who read the City Attorney’s legal opinion. Mr. Jernigan said [abridged],

“From my understanding, he [Attorney Kennon] said that he didn't know that Mr. Warren was a convicted felon. Well, I'm here to tell you everybody here knows that Mr. Warren is a convicted felon. However, things happen, and we put him in office.

If there had been a problem, I wish that we would have spoke about it before we put him in office and not later. So now that he's there, I'm all in favor of keeping him there based on the job that he's gonna do for the City….

If he or anybody violates any planning and zoning board rule or regulation, we all should have a problem with that. Until then, I suggest we recommend that we continue to keep him there because somebody said that -- you know -- he's there, and he cannot be there. You know, he's -- he's holding the office. That's not the case.

I want to -- I want to see what Mr. Dyal has to say about this because it seemed like everybody went around Mr. Dyal to get this on the agenda. Mr. Dyal, this is his forte. So let's give Mr. Dyal a chance to speak on this as to what happened and how we're going to move forward?”

Mr. Dyal did not ask for permission to speak. He said: “I don't have an issue speaking to it… I think he [Mr. Warren] is a big asset. And unless somethin’ can be -- be proven that really, really [is] out of the atmosphere of why he can't, I see no reason why he can't serve on the Board.”

It would appear that City Manager Dyal also did not read Attorney Kennon's legal analysis. Mr. Kennon wrote that Mr. Warren's appointment was unconstitutional and he could not serve.

Lake City City Manager Paul Dyal-file photoMr. Dyal tried to blame your reporter for this City mess, claiming that your reporter’s “stupid comments”  were responsible for questioning Mr. Warren’s appointment. Mr. Dyal claimed that even though the resolution to remove Mr. Warren said, “administration, that was just natural wording.”

Mr. Dyal said the placement of the resolution on the agenda “had nothing to do with the administration. It was brought about by the individual that requested…the public record [your reporter],” adding, “I don't hold enough respect for that man say his name.”

Via a public record request, your reporter requested Mr. Warren's Clemency Certificate. City Manager Dyal has still not responded.

Mr. Dyal continued, “I have no issue with Mr. Warren… We all need to get over this.

City Attorney Kennon, who earlier in the conversation claimed he had said all he had to say, once again piped up and began speaking without permission:

"I fully agree that Mr. Warren has the qualifications for this position; if it had been Henry Johnson that got appointed, I would have done the same research."

Mr. Kennon said that if he didn’t investigate the Warren issue now, it could become an issue in the future, “and it may -- could affect the validity of actions on the Planning and Zoning Board…."

Mr. Kennon said,

 “I gave you the facts, or at least what I interpreted the law to be. And now it's up to the Council to act. But at least I feel like I’ve done my due diligence… And now, that would be the Council's decision to act on it. It has nothin’ to do with Sylvester or me takin’ a prompt from somebody that, hey, you need to go look at this person and see if you could cause some controversy. That was not the intent at all. An issue was raised. And I looked into it, and I provided you with my legal analysis. It has nothin’ to do personal; nothin’ to do with his qualifications.”

Mr. Kennon summed up,

“I go to the planning and zoning board meetings. I was looking forward to it. I think things will get done… When a red flag is raised, I believe it's my obligation to look into it. I did. I presented you with my findings and how this (unintelligible). I think I did my job. And again, all I can do (unintelligible) Not personal – nothin’ to do with Sylvester. I'm looking forward to working on the projects with him. I think he could help me get through some of these projects.”

The City Council Decision

The City Council decided on the resolution to remove Sylvester Warren from the Planning & Zoning Board by voting unanimously to remove the resolution from the agenda. Translation: the Council ignored it.

Epilogue & Analysis

City Council members take an oath to support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Government of the State of Florida.

City Attorney Todd Kennon's explanation that he didn't know Mr. Warren was a convicted felon defies human comprehension. Councilman Jernigan said it best, "Well, I'm here to tell you, everybody here knows that Mr. Warren is a convicted felon.”

Why the City Attorney wanted to keep his legal opinion that it is unconstitutional for Mr. Warren to sit on the P&Z a secret from the public is unknown.

While expressing his opinions about Mr. Warren during the meeting, Mr. Kennon did not once mention that Mr. Warren’s appointment flew in the face of the Florida Constitution.

Before this article was published, your reporter reached out to City Councilman Sampson.

Mr. Sampson told your reporter, "I didn't see Mr. Kennon's opinion before the meeting. I have no idea why anyone was told to keep his analysis out of the agenda."

"I am asking the City Clerk to add to the next agenda that the City Council direct the City Attorney request an opinion from the Attorney General regarding the appointment of Mr. Warren to the P&Z.

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