New email controversy for Sarasota leaders

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SARASOTA - The release of hundreds of personal emails is raising questions about how much influence City Commissioner Terry Turner has on the commission.

The emails seem to chronicle a campaign that Turner organized in order to pass a charter amendment. That amendment would have given more power to the city manager, and split the office of city clerk and auditor, but voters turned it down last month..

Opponents say these emails clearly show that Turner was using his influence as a commissioner to spearhead the passage of an amendment that would have changed how the city was run.

Turner says that's not true and that he was only providing advice to a group of concerned citizens, as a private citizen, not as a commissioner.

Sent from Turner's personal email account, these messages are raising questions as to just how much influence turner has.

The emails lay out specific instructions to members of a group called Citizens for a Better Sarasota, that was in support of the failed amendment.

"I was asked for very specific information and I gave very specific information," said Turner, "I see nothing wrong with that, what I see is a group of actively engaged citizens trying to make the city better by making a constructive change to the city charter."

Turner denies that he was coaching the group, maintaining that he was acting as a private citizen and consultant.

He does admit that he has made a financial contribution to Citizens for a Better Sarasota.

"Under state law and federal law, I have the right as a citizen to engage in political activity and that's what I did," said Turner.

In other emails, Turner warns message recipients from responding to his official, city email account; something else he says shows no wrongdoing.

"I was being very cognizant and trying to keep separate my private emails from my personal emails and I sent them something...that came from my city email and I just wanted to make sure they made that separation as well," said Turner.

The Florida Elections Commission is currently responding to a complaint against Citizens for a Better Sarasota, filed Danny Preston, who alleges the group failed to disclose financial contributions.

Preston says Turner has close ties to Citizens for a Better Sarasota.

"I hope it at least opens the eyes of people in the city to get them more involved in what is going on in the city of Sarasota," said Preston.

When asked, Turner denied any close ties with Citizens for a Better Sarasota.

"I have nothing to do with that group other than I made a contribution and I gave them some advice," said Turner.

ABC7 News contacted the Florida Elections Commission for the status of that investigation, however we were told that at this time nothing is available for public record.

Turner recently announced that he will not be seeking re-election when his term ends next year.