DeSantis removes two commissioners arrested for possible Sunshine Law violations

Historic City News learned that Governor Ron DeSantis issued executive orders Thursday removing two Sumter County commissioners from office for allegedly lying under oath during an investigation into possible Sunshine Law violations.

The 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office received complaints alleging that Oren Miller and Gary Search had violated the Sunshine Law by communicating with each other outside of public meetings.  Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law prohibits, “any gathering of two or more members of the same board to discuss some matter which will foreseeably come before that board for action.”

Search and Miller, both 71-year-old residents of The Villages, ran as Republicans and won seats on the county commission in 2020.  They successfully challenged two Villages-developer-backed candidates who served on the commission in 2019 when it raised property taxes by 25%.

Miller admitted under oath that, “many of these phone calls were either just before or just after Sumter County Commission meetings,” even though it is unclear exactly what the two were talking about.  During one interview, Miller told investigators that phone calls between the two had stopped “probably in January or February, when we realized that [the phone calls] could be an issue.”  According to affidavits obtained during the investigation, Search and Miller communicated personally with each other more than 40 times between the time they were elected in November 2020 and July 2021. 

The investigation escalated when, in his affidavit, Search told investigators that he had no contact with Miller outside of meetings.  The two men were arrested, and each was charged with perjury on December 15, 2021.

In accordance with state law, the elected central Florida officials have been suspended from office until their criminal cases are resolved.  If found guilty of perjury at trial, the defendants each face the potential of a five-year prison sentence.