Palm Beach County’s Inspector General didn’t violate public access laws when holding closed-door meetings with local officials, according to the State Attorney’s Office.
John Bowers, a former auditor for the inspector general’s office, last week contacted the State Attorney’s Office with concerns that the meetings with groups of city managers and local business leaders could qualify as advisory committees subject to Florida’s government “Sunshine Law,” requiring public access.
But Inspector General John Carey maintains that the meetings are informal gatherings aimed at boosting community outreach. He says the groups don’t have decision-making powers or other roles that would make them subject to the Sunshine Law.
The State Attorney’s Office agreed with Carey, finding that Bower’s “allegation on its face was not a violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law,” state attorney spokesman Mike Edmondson said Friday.
“Every government meeting does not fall under the Sunshine Law,” Edmondson said.
Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law is intended to foster transparency in local government. It forbids local elected officials as well as appointees to government committees or advisory boards from discussing public business with each other outside of public meetings.
Carey, who became inspector general in June, said the quarterly meetings are a continuation of meetings started by his predecessor, Sheryl Steckler. He said he briefs the groups about activities at the inspector general’s office and he asks for individual comments, feedback and suggestions.
Carey said he “had no doubt” that the State Attorney’s office would confirm that the closed-door meetings are allowed. Carey said he plans to continue holding them.
“I will continue to take every opportunity to reach out to the citizens of Palm Beach County in a wide variety of venues,” Carey said. “It’s important to share how the Office of Inspector General works hard to guard taxpayer dollars and promote integrity in government and seek citizen input.”
Bowers said his concerns remain that the groups are advising Carey and that the public should be able to attend.
“The state attorney has basically declined to look into it,” Bowers said.
Palm Beach County’s inspector general post was created in 2009 in reaction to a string of local government corruption scandals.
The inspector general has a team of auditors and investigators that hunts for fraud, waste and abuse in local government. The inspector general recommends ways for government to operate more efficiently and reports suspected criminal wrongdoing to the State Attorney’s Office.
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