Did an exchange of email between Mayor Andrew Gillum and city commissioners Friday constitute a violation of the state’s open meetings statutes?
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said a response that Gillum wrote could be “problematic” and a reason why such emails are discouraged.
But Tallahassee City Attorney Lewis Shelley said Gillum’s response to an email reply from Commissioner Nancy Miller does not violate law because the mayor did not discuss city business. Gillum wrote to tell commissioners it was a bad idea to hold a separate meeting on March 25 to discuss a succession plan for City Manager Anita Favors Thompson because she hasn’t set a retirement date.
“I would not normally communicate a subject of this importance using this method, but given the article in Thursday’s Democrat and the frantic responses it has caused I wanted to respectfully put my position in writing to each of you,” he wrote.
Miller responded with a sharply worded email to Gillum, commissioners, Favors Thompson and Shelley: “Please stop sending these emails, which I believe to be a completely inappropriate venue for a discussion on this or any other topic. This is a discussion for a meeting inthe sunshine …” Gillum then responded: “I 100-percent agree this is a commission conversation, but we don’t have a meeting scheduled between now and the 25th … I don’t have another venue to communicate about that requested meeting, other than to go to communicate directly or through the manager. I will simply state that I will not be able to participate in any discussion of transition on March 25th.” Commissioner Gil Ziffer sent an email to Favors Thompson, Shelley and the city’s ethics officer Julie Meadows-Keefe, asking the city manager to instead add the discussion as an agenda item to the regular March 25th meeting.
Petersen said the email from Gillum and his subsequent response to Miller is why one-way emails are discouraged. She said Gillum’s original email seems acceptable because he was not soliciting an opinion. She also felt Ziffer’s email was appropriate, and that Miller’s email is not in violation “because it states a position and does not solicit a response.”
“While Miller didn’t solicit a response, the mayor responded regardless and this sort of back and forth via email can constitute a violation of the Sunshine law,” she said. Shelley disagreed.
“All of these comments are treated under the Sunshine Law as transitory comments and statements,” he said. “Talking about if you can meet or not meet doesn’t go to any substance of the decision the commission is going to have to make.” If Gillum had asked colleagues about choosing a consultant or an interim replacement in the context of the response, that would be a problem, he said. “The fact that I respond is not a critical issue,” he said. “It’s the substance of the communication.”
Original article here.