Miami Herald by Kyra Gurney
January 25, 2019
Following a discussion at last week’s City Commission meeting about a welcome sign at the entrance to Miami Beach, Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán took to Facebook to criticize the proposed design.
“Am I wrong? This giant LED display, to me, does not at all reflect who we are, is super ugly, and not what I want to see on my way home every day,” she wrote.
Another commissioner, Ricky Arriola, jumped into the conversation. “No one has a better idea. I wanted $$$ for world class entrance signs in the [general obligation] Bond but was outvoted by Commission,” he commented on the post. “Now we want new entrance signs and we have no money and no ideas.”
The online squabbling was no different from the arguments commissioners routinely have from the dais. But for public officials in Florida, bickering on social media could be against the law.
Florida has a broad open government law, known as the Sunshine Law, that applies to any conversation between officials who belong to the same elected body, even if the conversation takes place online in a public forum.
While it’s not illegal for public officials to post about city business on social media, responding to another official’s post could be a violation of the Sunshine Law, said Frank LoMonte, director of the University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information.
“The [Florida] attorney general’s office has taken the position that an exchange of views among members of an elected board in any medium, even an online one, qualifies as a ‘meeting’ for purposes of Florida’s open-meetings law,” LoMonte said in an email. And any public meetings have to be open to the public and advertised ahead of time.