Dunedin commissioners square off on alleged Sunshine Law violations, civility
DUNEDIN -- A recent City Commission clash over alleged Sunshine Law violations have officials talking again about civility.
The accusations are coming from Commissioner Julie Scales, who says she disagrees with a 30-year-old Florida attorney general's opinion that city staffers can brief elected officials on agenda items before meetings.
Scales, a former attorney for Pinellas County government, believes the practice has led to backroom discussion, decision-making and votes on multi-million dollar projects and other issues that haven't been discussed publicly. She said she also believes those one-on-one meetings have led city staffers to tailor their recommendations to commissioners' wishes rather than relying on their own expert opinions and research.
Scales' accusations have incensed her four colleagues - Mayor Dave Eggers and Commissioners Julie Ward Bujalski, David Carson and Ron Barnette. They say a 63-page report of meeting minutes, e-mails, memos and case law compiled by City Manager Rob DiSpirito and City Attorney Tom Trask and presented to the commission Thursday disproves her allegations.
Trask said his investigation didn’t find any violations. He said it's acceptable and common for local government elected officials to meet with staff or the city manager, so long as those staffers don't pass along each commissioner's opinion to the others or schedule meetings in such a way to circumvent public discussion.
Commissioners say they've met with staff one-on-one for years to educate themselves about items on which they will later vote.
DiSpirito also provided budget workshop minutes showing that commissioners did publicly discuss utility rates, construction projects and other items.
Nonetheless, Scales responded that she is more comfortable receiving staff presentations in public meetings.
She called for workshops on several items including civility.
That ruffled the feathers of her colleagues who said Scales' past and present accusations have attacked the professionalism and integrity of DiSpirito and his staff.