Florida 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)
437 days (1 year, 2 months, 13 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum
May 5, 2019 by David Silverberg
The Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) roundtable scheduled for Tuesday, May 7, will violate Florida’s Sunshine Law if it is closed to the press and public, argues an attorney for WINK-TV, based in Fort Myers, Fla.
“However well-intentioned the notion of closing the HAB Meeting to the press and public may have been, such closure in our view violates Florida’s Sunshine Law,” writes Karen Kammer, a lawyer with the firm Mitrani, Raynor, Adamsky and Toland, Miami, Fla., and counsel to WINK-TV.
Kammer delivered the opinion in a strongly-worded May 3 letter to Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), who organized the meeting (referred to here as the Rooney Roundtable). After publicly announcing the meeting of federal, state and local officials in April, Rooney subsequently declared that the meeting was “private” and press and public would be excluded.
“Respectfully, on behalf of my clients and the public we must object strenuously to closure as a violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law, Section 286.011, Florida Statutes,” argued Kammer.
Kammer noted that the Sunshine Law only allows very narrow exceptions to opening meetings to the public and these exceptions must be made by the legislature, not individuals.
Kammer cited five objections to Rooney’s closure of his roundtable:
- He has no legal standing to close a meeting of state and local officials;
- The reasons he cited for closure (privacy, personal relationships and unrestricted discussion) don’t exist in Florida law;
- Action and decisions based on the roundtable may be taken by public boards and commissions and so it must be open to press and public;
- It appears that invitees were chosen specifically to evade the Sunshine Law’s requirements;
- Any concerns that Rooney might have about decorum or order during the course of the meeting is not a basis for closure.
“The devastating effect of the algal blooms on the health and welfare of Florida’s citizens, as well as on the state’s economy, is worthy of continued discussion to devise efforts to combat it. Nonetheless, such efforts must be conducted in the sunshine as Florida law requires,” wrote Kammer. “Accordingly, we urge each of you to honor our objections and insist the Meeting be made open to the press and public in the manner described above.”
There is no response to the letter or any other comment on the Roundtable on Rep. Rooney’s website. A query has been sent to Rooney’s office.
This report will be updated as circumstances warrant.