How do you follow Sunshine Law when you’re married to another member of the city council?
This question will now be tested for the first known time in Florida history.
The small town of Medley will have a husband-wife duo simultaneously serving on its council after Karina Pacheco beat Lourdes Rodriguez in a special election on Jan. 25 by just two votes, 199-197, a result that was upheld on Friday in an automatic recount by the Miami-Dade Elections Department in Doral.
Pacheco will join her husband, Ivan Pacheco, on a city council that is already a family affair. Edgar Ayala and his daughter, Lizelh Ayala, are two of the other five elected.
The other is the city’s top administrator, Mayor Roberto Martell.
Pacheco’s election could test the limits of Florida’s Sunshine Law, which prohibits two members of the same council from discussing in private any matter “which is likely to come before the council for action”. Dating back to 2018, when the couple were on the ballot together but only Ivan Pacheco won, husband and wife have insisted in several subsequent campaigns that they can serve and live together without breaking the law.
Both Karina and Ivan Pacheco declined to speak to the Miami Herald after the election results were certified on Friday, driving off together in the same car.
Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, said there’s nothing illegal about a husband and wife serving on the same city council in Florida. But he said it would be difficult for the Pachecos to stay within the bounds of the law.
“They have to understand that they live under a microscope and they have to govern themselves accordingly,” Jarvis said. “Most couples wouldn’t because they wouldn’t want people to question everything they do.”
Barbara Peterson, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, told the Herald last month that same-council spouses “must be extremely careful to avoid discussing council business except in meetings held in strict compliance of the law of the sun”.
“They need to be aware that they will be subject to increased public scrutiny,” Peterson said.
As the recount took place on Friday, Ivan Pacheco stood in an area reserved for members of the public and carefully recorded the process on his phone through a glass divider. At one point, he questioned an Elections Department staff member about his handling of ballots when manually checking the results.
The automatic recount was triggered because the two candidates were only separated by 0.5 percentage points. (A manual recount would have taken place if the margin was 0.25 points or less.)
Pacheco was initially trailing by a single vote, 196-195, after the votes were counted on Tuesday. Five additional ballots that had mismatched or missing signatures were corrected before Thursday’s deadline and approved by a canvassing committee made up of Medley Town clerk Victoria Martinez and two county judges, Carlos Gamez and Lizzet Martinez.
Tuesday’s special election was prompted by the arrest and suspension from office in November of Councilwoman Lily Stefano, who was accused of stealing food from a charity founded by the soccer star retired Santana Moss.
Medley, an industrial town in West Miami-Dade, has about 1,000 residents and one neighborhood.
There is no rule in Florida prohibiting spouses from serving together on an elected board. In 1989, the state’s attorney general said in an opinion that Florida’s anti-nepotism law “does not prohibit a husband and wife from concurrently serving on the same city council.”
This was Karina Pacheco’s fourth candidacy for Medley Town Council since 2018, when she and her husband were the first to vote together and her husband was elected to a four-year term.
“You would think you would want more independence on the city council,” said Jarvis, the Nova Southeastern professor. “But who are we to question the wisdom of voters?”
This story was originally published January 28, 2022 1:43 p.m.