Tampa Bay Times by Marlene Sokol
August 28, 2017
In the midst of a tense budget season, the Hillsborough County School Board’s finance committee met last week.
No prior notice of the meeting was given to the media or public. A Tampa Bay Times reporter found out about it afterwards, by accident.
On Monday, district officials apologized profusely. They insisted the lack of notice was not deliberate. “This was no intent to be secretive,” said Grayson Kamm, the district’s chief of community relations and media. “This was a meeting that we believed had been noticed. Notes were kept. More than a half dozen staff were there. It was just a mistake that was made.”
He also pledged to implement measures to prevent such an oversight from happening again.
The Florida open meetings law, commonly known as the Sunshine Law, requires that government boards give the public “reasonable” notice before they meet.
The Hillsborough school board only recently formed seven committees on facilities, curriculum, finance, transportation, legislative affairs, communication and human resources.
Each of these committees has three school board members and the senior staff member in charge of the particular issue, according to the district website, which makes it clear that the committees operate under the sunshine law.
Notice of the meetings, until now, has come in the form of an email sent to media outlets under the heading. “Board members in the community.”
But those notices are not found in the press release section of the district’s website. Nor are they included on the Board tab, which describes the committees.
“‘Reasonable’ isn’t defined in the statutes, but the courts have said ‘reasonable notice’ means sufficient so as to inform those who might be interested in attending,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation.
“And it’s public notice – notice to the media alone doesn’t satisfy the statutory requirements. Failure to provide notice of a meeting is a violation of law – far more serious than a mere “oversight.'” [READ MORE]