Most of the Village Council and three senior staff members attended a social event last week at a private polo farm that one Sunshine Law expert said teeters on the edge of concern.
Bob Jornayvaz, of J-5 Equestrian and Valiente Polo, and International Polo Club executive John Wash invited the council and senior village staff to come out to J-5 Equestrian farm Thursday evening for a “gathering” to socialize with polo team owners and U.S. Polo Association representatives.
Some council members described it as an informal evening to recap the polo season, which officially ends this weekend.
Village Manager Paul Schofield said Mayor Bob Margolis and Councilman Matt Willhite were there — as were Vice Mayor John Greene and Councilman John McGovern, both of whom had earlier in the evening sat in for about 20 minutes on the neighborhood meeting at village hall for Saddle Trail residents. Councilwoman Anne Gerwig had a scheduling conflict and could not attend.
Representing village staff were Schofield, Village Attorney Laurie Cohen and Mike O’Dell, who handles equestrian projects in the planning department, Schofield said.
No formal presentations were made and the guests mostly stood around in small groups and mingled, while light refreshments were served, he said.
The Florida Sunshine Law prohibits elected officials from discussing privately any matters that they could vote on. Schofield said “there was no business discussed” during Thursday’s event.
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said council members should be cautious about wading into grey territory. (Issues related to Wellington’s equestrian industry often come up before the council.)
There’s generally no prohibition on council members attending social functions together so long as they don’t talk about public business, she said.
But, “if I were the attorney for the village council, my advice would be to stay away,” Petersen said. “It may or may not be a violation of law for the council members to attend — only a court can make that determination — but I think it wise to err on the side of caution.
“The council members have to consider not only the application of the law, but also the spirit and intent of the law, and there’s always the issue of public perception,” she said.
Original article here.