Sunday, August 10, 2014

SUNSHINE VIOLATIONS: Inaudible small group discussions at City Visioning meetings; failure to take minutes; failure to share materials -- IN HAEC VERBA

(Letter e-mailed this morning to City Manager John Patrick Regan, P.E., City Attorney Ronald Wayne Brown, Assistant City Attorney Isabelle Lopez and City Commissioner Roxanne Horvath)(CORRECTED)

Dear John, Ronnie, Isabelle and Roxanne:
1. Small group discussions at Visioning meetings violate the Sunshine laws. As the Florida Attorney General's Government in the Sunshine Manual states:

"discussions members of the board or commission which are audible only to those seated at the table may violate the “openness” requirement of the law. ago 71-159. Cf. City of Miami Beach v. Berns, 245 so. 2d 38, 41 (Fla. 1971), in which the Florida supreme Court observed: “a secret meeting occurs when public officials meet at a time and place to avoid being seen or heard by the public.”….a violation of the sunshine law may occur if, during a recess of a public meeting, board members discuss issues before the board in a manner not generally audible to the public attending the meeting. although such a meeting is not clandestine, it nonetheless violates the letter and spirit of the law. Rackleff v. Bishop, no. 89-235 (Fla. 2d Cir. Ct. march 5, 1990). And see ago 71-159, stating that discussions of public business which are audible only to “a select few” who are at the table with the board members may violate the “openness” requirement of the law.$file/2012-SunshineManual.pdf

2. At the August 4, 2014 Visioning meetings, small groups were used extensively. Attendees and viewers on cable and streaming video could rarely hear what they were saying -- three or four groups were talking at once, like the Tower of Babel. Close to my seat, I heard comments from a member of one group to the effect that homeless people need to be run off KING Street. I responded to his remark; he ignored my response.
3. In the future, no more small group meetings should be held, without minutes being taken and the meetings being audible to all members of the public. Breaking up into small groups has the effect of insulating the source of ideas and preventing them from being discussed. I asked the City Attorney for any opinions allowing such small group discussions; none exists.
4. As Woodrow Wilson said, "Open covenants, openly arrived at." See Florida Constitution, Article I, Section 24, adopted by 83% of the people in 1992 (3.8 million votes).
5. The Clerk's office is no longer taking minutes. This is unacceptable. Furthermore, the taking of minutes may not be delegated to a contractor.
6. There has been a repeated willful failure of City staff to share materials timely. This was accompanied by unfriendliness. On August 4, 2014, I asked for copies of the six scenarios Mr. Herbert Marlowe had shared with Committee members. Ms. Wanda Bray had no copies for the public. She said she would get me a copy "tomorrow." When I insisted that let me read her copy, she got angry with me and reluctantly made copies, showing disdain and disrespect. I told her, "there is no reason to be mean." She replied, "I give what I get."
7. Despite the good intentions of Commissioners and the City Manager, some City employees still act like cognitive misers and anti-information energumen, refusing to share information with the public. Ms. Bray and Mr. Williamson must be instructed to do their jobs or work elsewhere.
8. All materials shared with Visioning committee members must be timely shared with the public by Internet and paper copies.
9. All Visioning Committee members and staff must use their microphones. Mr. Marlowe repeatedly wandered away from the microphone, rendering his comments inaudible to viewers on cable and Internet. Please provide him with a wireless Lavalier microphone so that he will be miked wherever he walks -- this will avoid the need for staff and citizens to request he use his microphone.
10. As James Madison wrote in 1822, "A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
Thank you for all that you do.
With kindest regards, I am,
Sincerely yours,
Ed Slavin

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