Orlando Sentinel Op-Ed by Bob Shaw
December 5, 2017
A recent back-and-forth between the First Amendment Foundation and Winter Park city officials has highlighted a troubling issue for supporters of Florida’s “Government in the Sunshine” laws: the questionable legality of one-on-one meetings between elected officials.
Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary, referring to his meeting with Commissioner Gregory Seidel on Nov. 29 and Seidel’s one-on-one with Commissioner Pete Weldon on Nov. 14, says the meetings complied with the “Sunshine” laws: They were publicly noticed, open to the public and tape-recorded for posting on the city’s website.
Such meetings, Leary told the Orlando Sentinel, are an “efficient” way for him to “understand where my counterpart is coming from.” And to FAF President Barbara Petersen, who called such meetings “bad public policy,” Leary said this:
“[These meetings] are perfectly legal and in no way impair our constituents’ opportunity to know what we are thinking and discussing.”
But a look at the details surrounding the meetings shows why Leary’s defense is, at best, problematic. Consider:
The Nov. 29 meeting began on 8:30 a.m. on a Thursday; the Nov. 14 meeting at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday. Anyone with a daytime job would have had to make special arrangements to attend — and almost no one did.