Two current and one former Martin County Commissioner are facing charges for violating public records laws. How did we get to this point?
For Commissioner Ed Fielding and former Commissioner Anne Scott, the charge is a criminal misdemeanor violation for not allowing the inspection of public records.
Commissioner Sarah Heard has been charged with a non-criminal violation of public records laws.
The State Attorney’s Office investigation, which resulted in these charges, is still ongoing.
This is the latest result of years of public records and contract issues in Martin County, involving a company called Lake Point.
In 2008, the company received approval from Martin County to mine a large parcel of land in the Western part of the county.
For about five years, the company completed work on the land without issue.
That started to change in 2013.
Lake Point learned there might be a secret discussion occurring between certain commissioners and a former commissioner, Maggie Hurchalla, regarding Lake Point’s contract.
Lake Point believed Hurchalla was urging commissioners Scott, Heard and Fielding to take action to end the county’s contract with Lake Point over environmental concerns.
In a January 2013 meeting, Anne Scott made the following statement:
“As far as I can see, we are in a position to shut this down and I would move that we commence procedures to do so,” Scott said.
Lake Point pursued a lawsuit for breach of contract.
In 2014, that lawsuit expanded, to include concerns over public records violations.
While building their breach of contract case, Lake Point requested emails and meeting notes relating to Hurchalla, and the three commissioners, discussing Lake Point. Lake Point said the county did not provide those records in a timely manner.
By 2015, this matter goes to court.
A judge ultimately ruled in favor of the county, stating there were not any public records violations.
But in a matter of months, that changed.
By 2016, court documents said emails surfaced between Hurchalla and Scott which had not been seen before, and qualified as emails that were required to be turned over under the Lake Point public records request.
A judge changed his ruling and determined Ed Fielding and Anne Scott did not turn over all of their emails related to Lake Point in a timely manner.
A judge also determined Sarah Heard altered emails. Heard also claimed her personal Yahoo email account was hacked, deleting many emails.
An arbiter called that story “suspicious, bizarre and less than credible.”
This is when things begin to turn costly for tax payers, as the county is ordered to pay Lake Point nearly $500,000 for legal costs and fines related to the failure to follow public records rules.
By 2017, these developments catch the attention of the State Attorney’s Office, which opens a criminal investigation to determine if Heard, Fielding, Scott or other former and current county commissioners committed crimes by how they handled public records.
This year, the county also agreed to settle the breach of contract suit for $12 million.
These arrests and charges have caused a shake up for the county.
"You know, things are obviously going to be different in Martin County, given some of the latest things that have been going on. None of us are really sure where we're going from this point forward. We're waiting to see like everyone else is waiting to see what happens next,” said Commissioner Doug Smith.
The governor’s office is also reviewing the developments but has not said whether there is any consideration of ordering suspensions.