Pressure ramps up on Rooney to open government roundtable to press and public

04-30-19 Emergent Technologies InstituteFlorida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute where a closed discussion on harmful algae blooms is scheduled to take place on May 7.  (Photo: FGCU)

435 days (1 year, 2 months, 11 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum

May 3, 2019 by David Silverberg

Pressure ramped up this week on Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) to open a scheduled roundtable on harmful algal blooms to the press and public.

The roundtable discussion on harmful algal blooms (HABs) is scheduled to take place Tuesday, May 7 at the Emergent Technologies Institute of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) at 16301 Innovation Lane, in Fort Myers, Fla. It is closed to the press and public.

On April 30, NBC-2 News reporter Dave Elias filed a report on the meeting, in which he quoted Southwest Floridians complaining about being shut out. “There’s something that government officials don’t want us to hear, that’s what I get out of it,” said Emanuel Dimare, a Fort Myers realtor quoted by Elias.

On Wednesday, May 2, the Naples Daily News called for Rooney to open the discussion in an editorial, “Congressman Rooney should let public in on toxic algae discussion at FGCU,” written by Brent Batten for both that newspaper and the Fort Myers News-Press.

On Thursday, May 3, in an investigative report, “Officials schedule private meeting for SWFL water crisis,” WINK-TV reporter Lauren Sweeney attempted to contact all the announced attendees.

“Federal, state and local legislators are coming together in Southwest Florida to fight the water crisis, but you’re not invited,” Sweeney reported. She reported that WINK is considering legal action to open the meeting. (Sweeney’s report also contains a complete list of scheduled attendees.)

Also on Thursday the Naples Press Club, a non-profit, non-partisan organization of active and retired journalists and communications professionals, passed a resolution calling on Rooney to open the meeting. “…Organizers of this meeting should immediately open it to full, live coverage by the press and attendance by the public throughout its duration,” stated the resolution, adding “that no future meeting of this sort attended by public officials and of vital interest to the press and public should be closed to the press and public.”

Rooney press secretary Christopher Berardi had stated that a press conference would follow the meeting but has not yet announced a time.

Closing the meeting may violate Florida’s Sunshine Law (Florida Statute 286.011(1)), which states that any government meeting where decisions are made must be open to press and public in its entirety.

According to Sweeney of WINK-TV, in a statement Rooney maintained that since no two officials at the conference were from the same agency, the law did not apply. Elias of NBC-2 quoted a Rooney statement that declared “to obtain the participants we have, the forum must be private and technically oriented.”

The roundtable is intended to compare notes on the kinds of HABs that plagued Southwest Florida last summer. Officials will examine best practices and discuss preventive measures.

The attendees represent a cross section of federal, state and local officials.

Announced attendees include key federal officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Key state officials will come from the Florida departments of Environmental Protection, Economic Opportunity and Emergency Management. Local officials will come from Lee and Collier counties, the cities of Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Bonita Springs and the Village of Estero, as well as representatives of the Lee Health system and FGCU.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

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