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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Three Tampa City Council members heading to Cuba this week

There’s no Tampa City Council meeting this week — typically, the council doesn't meet on the fifth Thursday of a month — and that’s probably a good thing, since nearly half the council will be out of the country.

Council members Yvonne Yolie Capin, Harry Cohen and Mary Mulhern joined a 30-member delegation from the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce that is scheduled to head to Cuba today and return on Sunday night. It will be the third trip for Mulhern, the first for Capin and Cohen.

“For me, I really am hoping to come back more educated and knowing a lot more than I do now,” Cohen said shortly before leaving for the airport. “I’m trying to keep a very open mind and really want to just soak up and learn as much as I possibly can.”

The council members’ travel is not being paid for by public money, and City Council attorney Martin Shelby issued a memo Tuesday saying that the trip would not violate Florida’s government-in-the-sunshine law.

According to the license issued for the trip by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, the council members’ itinerary calls for “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities” that “will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba,” Shelby wrote.

By design, he added, the trip is social, with no official meetings scheduled with members of the government in Havana. Moreover, he said the council members are not traveling in their official capacities, and the council has “no final authority to act upon initiating trade or business with Cuba.”

Consequently, Shelby wrote, the Sunshine Law does not apply.

“It has long been established that the Sunshine Law is not applicable to social settings or events where no official business will be discussed,” he wrote. That said, he added, “please be reminded, therefore, to exercise caution on your trip when in the company of other members of City Council, that you refrain from discussing any city business or matter that could foreseeably come before City Council for action.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 5:07pm]


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