Bogus ‘meetings’ bill deserves quick death

Rarely do taxpayers benefit when elected or appointed officials conduct public business in the shadows.

Oversight and accountability are the core principles of Florida’s Sunshine Law. HB 843 would eviscerate these important tenets.

by the Treasure Coast Newspapers Editorial Board

February 16, 2017

Florida’s Sunshine Law defines “meeting” as any discussion of public business by two members of the same board, council, commission, agency, et al, at the municipal, county or state level. This statute has been on the books for almost 50 years.

House Bill 843, filed by state Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, would create a cavernous exemption by redefining “meeting.”

Under the proposal, meetings between two members of the same board would be exempt.

“Two members of any board or commission … with a total memberships of at least five members may meet in private and discuss public business without providing notice of such meeting, recording such meeting or making such records open to public inspection,” the bill states.

The proposal contains a few caveats. The one-on-one meetings would be exempt from Sunshine Law as long as members do not: 1) adopt a resolution or rule or take any other formal action; or 2) discuss any appropriation involving the expenditure of public funds.

As Petersen noted, board and commission members already have a mechanism in place to share their thoughts with one another. They just can’t “discuss” issues in private.

“The Florida attorney general has said a board member can email another member to let that member know what he or she thinks about an issue,” Petersen said. “This is OK as long as one member doesn’t solicit a response from the other. It’s not OK to write, ‘This is what I think, what do you think?'”

A change in the law could give rise to what Petersen calls “daisy chaining.” In this scheme, “Commissioner A and Commissioner B meet in private; Commissioner B then meets with Commissioner C” and so on down the line, with all commissioners eventually “coming to some sort of consensus.”

All of it would be conducted behind closed doors. And there would be no public record of these deliberations.

Here’s the kicker with HB 843: The author is casting his proposal as a public benefit.

Really.

“Exempting such one-on-one meetings from public meetings and records requirements will allow such members to better serve the interests of the public, which they have been elected or appointed to represent,” the bill states. “Therefore, the Legislature finds that this exemption from public meetings and public records requirements is a public necessity.”

What a crock!

Rarely do taxpayers benefit when elected or appointed officials conduct public business in the shadows.

Oversight and accountability are the core principles of Florida’s Sunshine Law. HB 843 would eviscerate these important tenets.

Donalds’ proposal is a serious threat to open government in our state. As such, it deserves a quick death. [READ MORE]

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