Florida law: ‘Conduct government business in public view’

Chapter 286 of the Florida statutes states: “All meetings of any board or commission of any state agency or authority or of any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation or political subdivision, except as otherwise provided in the Constitution, at which official acts are to be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times and no resolution, rule or formal action shall be considered binding except as taken or made at such meeting. The board or commission must provide reasonable notice of all such meetings.”

Our governor, Rick Scott, must know that our state constitution does not exempt a meeting between cabinet member’s staffers from Chapter 286. Simply stated:

When his staff meets with the cabinet staffers it must, by law, be recorded and available to anyone seeking access.

This whole transparency problem of cabinet staffers not recording their meetings came into light last December with the controversy over the firing of Gerald Bailey, the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement went public. Scott first stated that Bailey resigned from his post as head of FDLE. Bailey vehemently denied resigning and said he was “fired” by the governor. Then, under pressure from the elected members of the Florida Cabinet, Scott conceded that Bailey was forced to resign and the decision to fire him was discussed and a decision was made by members of the Cabinet’s staffers. A meeting that, by law, should have been public – not in privacy away from public review.

Later Scott came clean and stated that he was responsible for the forced resignation and assumed responsibility for the decision. Notwithstanding his assumption of responsibility for the firing he evidently still doesn’t feel he is subject to Florida’s “Sunshine Law.”
Scott’s arrogance is evident by the fact that he has not required minutes of staffer meetings be recorded. Audio recording of meeting s had once been available on MyFlorida.com which is maintained by Scott’s staff. Unfortunately, the governor’s office now says that the audio is no longer available due to “technological difficulties.”

The obvious snub of the Sunshine Law cannot be attributed to ignorance of the law. The then Attorney General of Florida, Bill McCollum, wrote in 2008 that “written minutes of meetings must be taken and promptly recorded when addressing the subject of a workshop meeting of an advisory board in Delray Beach.”

If it is required of an advisory board in Delray it certainly would apply to a meeting of Cabinet member staffers where decisions effecting the state are being made. It is not a place to hide decisions that are best kept, according to the desires of highup state officials, from coming to light.

The concept of transparency is basic to a form of government that permits its citizens to vote for individuals that will make decisions on the management of our country.

We are far better equipped to vote properly on the reelection of office holders if we are privy to their actions, which are governing our nation, our state, our county or our local municipality. Being kept in the dark to cover or hide improper decisions is the worst thing that can happen in a democracy.

We appreciate your opinions on this column whether in agreement or disagreement. Send your comments to (fax number) 305-662-6980 or email to Kenneth.Bluh@ColumbusCL.com. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of this newspaper, its editors or publisher.

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