By George Scholl
We are most fortunate to live in a city with some of the highest rates of daily sunshine in the country. So with a title like “Government in the Sunshine”, you might think that this article is going to be about the weather. Well in Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine has a double meaning.
The fact is we are fortunate to live in a state with some of the most open public access to government in the entire United States. The Government in the Sunshine Law was passed by the Florida legislature in 1967. The Sunshine Law, as it is typically called, requires that all meetings of any state, county, or municipal board or commission, be open to the public. The origin of the idea of open public access in Florida dates back to 1905 where Florida courts began upholding the citizen’s rights to view public records. This evolved into the Florida Public Records law which states “it is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records shall at all times be open for a personal inspection by any person.” We have many residents in our city that come from other countries and they are quick to point out that our style of open government is not as typical in other parts of the world.
The Sunshine Law is far reaching and has three basic components, 1) all meetings, public boards, or commissions must be open to the public, 2) reasonable notice of any meeting must be given, 3) minutes of the meeting must be taken and promptly recorded. The practical implications of this law, with very few exceptions, means that any dialog that occurs between any member of the City Commission, and any other committees of the City, must occur in a public meeting. This was designed for the public to have access to not only the voting process but also the discussion and dialog that leads up to the actual voting procedure.
Your City of Sunny Isles Beach takes this process even further by televising our City Commission meetings on public cable access channel 77 and streaming them over the internet on our website at www.sibfl.net. These broadcasts are also recorded and available on our website for months after each meeting.
As your new Mayor I presided over my first City Commission meeting on December 18th. One of my first actions was to cancel a series of workshop meetings that were traditionally held on the Tuesday morning before each commission meeting. These workshops met all the requirements of the Sunshine Law and were completely legal. However, due to the time and nature of the meetings (10 am, Tuesday mornings) they were not attended by many members of the public. Additionally they were not recorded and broadcast as are regular commission meetings. Consequently I felt, and my fellow commissioners agreed, that the public was better served if all dialog regarding the actions that come before our City Commission take place at the regular commission meetings where the public has multiple means of access. We are proud to live in a state with some of the most progressive open access to records and government in the sunshine laws in the country. Our City and your elected officials take this responsibility very seriously and are taking appropriate action to ensure we do everything we can to keep you fully informed of what goes on in your City Government. So the next time you step outside and it is a sunny day, you can be reminded and assured that your city government is also operating in the sunshine.
Editor’s Note: The commission meeting schedule and agenda are printed in the Community Newspaper monthly.