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The Villages
Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Suspended Sumter County commissioners need our support

Reed Panos

The recent arrest of two resident-elected Sumter County commissioners Oren Miller and Gary Search appears to be another attempt to take control of the Sumter County commission and get around the loss of the last election. The so-called “investigation” leading to the arrests started with three anonymous complaints to the state attorney. One of the complainants was apparently made by a deep-pocketed unnamed client of developer-supported attorney George Angeliadis.  (Who could the unnamed, deep-pocketed client be?)  The complaints alleged violation of the Florida Sunshine Law.  The Sunshine Law, which applies only to local governments and not to the state legislature, prohibits discussion between two members of the same legislative body concerning agenda items unless the discussion is held at a public meeting. The Sunshine Law is so complex that the Attorney General’s manual interpreting it is over 300 pages long. In other words, if you want to make trouble for a local official and dig up a technical legal infraction, that is a good place to start.

In obtaining the arrest warrants, the state attorney’s office, with probable knowledge of the governor’s office, alleged that some answers given by both commissioners to questions by the state attorney constituted perjury.  The specifics of the allegation are listed in the affidavits on which the arrests were based.  The relevant questions centered on how many months earlier the two commissioners had phoned each other– an issue that neither commissioner had any reason to lie about because phone calls between two commissioners are perfectly legal so long as they don’t involve matters before the commission. The affidavits can be found by clicking here and following the instructions:  https://www.civitekflorida.com/ocrs/county/42/disclaimer.xhtml  Note that despite the efforts of the anonymous complainants, the commissioners have NOT been charged with violation of the Sunshine Law, probably because there is no evidence to sufficiently support the allegation.

Instead, the arrests of Messrs. Miller and Search were for perjury.  They appear to be the result of a perjury trap in which the investigator, with known information such as phone records, asks a series of questions in different ways until the accused makes a mistake in answering.  However, to convict someone of perjury, it must be proven that the accused knew at the time of the statement that it was false and that it be in regard to a material fact. Because the affidavits contain highly edited and apparently cherry-picked items from the interviews of Messrs. Search and Miller, we don’t have all the facts.  But it appears from a careful reading of the affidavits themselves, that the perjury trap was unsuccessful, and the answers by Mr. Miller and Search were not, in reality, perjurious.  An excellent analysis of the details surrounding the arrests can be found at  https://www.villages-news.com/2021/12/27/look-behind-the-curtain-to-understand-the-arrests-of-commissioners-miller-and-search

People familiar with the case think once the facts are public, the perjury charge will be thrown out.  The real issue is the financial burden it puts on the commissioners in defending the case.  Even if the case is dismissed, the commissioners will still have suffered a significant cost.

In addition to being commissioners, Oren and Gary have been active in serving our community in other ways. Oren has long been active in advocating humane treatment for animals.  He has been very active in emergency management in the villages managing the AED program for his village and deputy commander of the community emergency response team. In this capacity he was in charge of one of the shelters for hurricane relief spending all night there with four nurses. Gary is very active in his church, New Covenant United Methodist Church.  He is a former chair of the helping-hands ministry that operates Bargains and Blessings, a thrift shop supporting those in the community that need help.  He is a very faith-driven individual, and neither he nor Oren, would knowingly commit a crime.  For the developer-backed political machine to go against those two appears to be nothing but an attempt to force them out of office.

If the two commissioners do not resign, the governor (the recipient of large campaign contributions from the Developer) has the practical ability to replace them based only on the arrest — without the due process of the American court system.  If the governor does that, the repercussions of replacing probably-innocent commissioners will be long lasting and damaging to his political future.  Do we really want to reelect a governor who disregards the legal process in apparent support of a wealthy benefactor, much less support him for President?  If you agree, you should email the governor at [email protected] and express your opposition to his taking any steps to remove Messrs. Miller and Search unless they are convicted after they have had their day in court.

I am a lifelong Republican and very much believe in the party started by Abraham Lincoln with leaders, including Ronald Reagan who believe in the United States of America, God, country and the American way.  That means “We the People” elect the legislators through the democratic process that is fully protected by the good faith of the United States of America.  Elections should not be decided by the wealthiest that pay legislators to support their businesses, and certainly should not be appointed by the wealthiest against the wishes of the voters.

The hardest part of this vindictive attempt to replace the two commissioners is the financial burden to defend the god-fearing commissioners.  If you believe that The Villages would be a better place with continued support of commissioners like Gary Search and Oren Miller, a gofund me account has been set up for Gary at  https://gofund.me/856e51fa, and for Oren  at https://gofund.me/8990559c.  Please support these funds.

Reed G. Panos is chair and president of Fair Government for Sumter, Inc.

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