Closed Rooney Roundtable proceeds despite protests from public and press

439 days (1 year, 2 months, 15 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum

May 7, 2019 by David Silverberg

Updated with WGCU/Twitter reporting, May 8, 2019

Despite anguished protests from Floridians affected by impure or polluted water and outraged demands for public and press access, federal, state and local officials held a secret, closed meeting today at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute to discuss harmful algal blooms.

The roundtable was attended by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) as well as a variety of officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. State officials from a variety of agencies attended as well as officials at the county and municipal levels.

Although DeSantis and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) held a press conference after the very brief meeting, the public was kept at a sufficient distance from the lectern and speakers so that they couldn’t be heard. No transcript is expected.

A second, public, streamed event on the topic of harmful algal blooms is scheduled to be held Friday, which will be more of a public airing and include local activist organizations.  However, the press and public will likely never know what decisions were reached at the closed roundtable held today.

Some live clips from the meeting courtesy of WGCU via Twitter:

On the impropriety of closing the meeting: https://twitter.com/wgcu/status/1125802351992897537

On the threat to democracy from improper secrecy: https://twitter.com/wgcu/status/1126156718780637184

05-07-19 Panorama of FGCU-ETI, site of Rooney RoundtableA panoramic view of the site where the Rooney Roundtable was held. The orange cones mark the closest distance that the public was allowed to get to the building.    (All photos by the author.)
05-07-19 Protesters at Rooney roundtableA small but vigorous group of people tried to make their concerns about Southwest Florida water quality heard but were ignored by the officials at the Roundtable. A number were protesting the mining activities of the Mosaic Co., which they say is polluting waters in central Florida.
05-07-19 Protester with taped mouth at Rooney roundtableA protester demands clean water and the chance to speak to government officials and lawmakers.
05-07-19 Darlene Lucas and Jan Fennessy, protesters at Rooney RoundtableDarlene Lucas, a retired nurse, and Jan Fennessy drove to Fort Myers from Venice to try to learn about the health effects of algal blooms. Lucas said she had seen severe impacts from impure water in her practice.
05-07-19 Eric Larson, student at FGCU-ETIEric Larson, a student at the Emergent Technologies Institute. Larson had hoped to show Gov. DeSantis the facility and some of his work but wasn’t permitted in the building and was kept outside on the lawn with other members of the public.
05-07-19 DeSantis press conferenceThe closest the public was allowed to get to the outdoor press conference by DeSantis and Rooney.

The secrecy of the Rooney Roundtable was a violation of the spirit and intent of Florida’s Sunshine Law, which holds that decisions affecting the public should be made in public, WINK-TV lawyer Karen Kammer stated in a May 3 letter to Rooney.

Commentary

Rooney and DeSantis’ ability to exclude the press and public from a forum making decisions critical to Floridians’ health and wellbeing sets a dangerous precedent and is a blow to the rule of law in a state with one of the most comprehensive government transparency laws in the nation.

The secret decisions taken at this meeting will now likely trickle down to the county and municipal levels but in what forms and to what ends the press and public may never know.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

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