Open? Closed? The governor's listening tour moves on
Gov. Rick Scott's office took issue today with the description of his listening tour as "closed" to the media. That's been reported in multiple media outlets, including the Times, because the governor's office asked only those teachers and parents invited to participate to stay in the room during the sessions. Others, including the media, were allowed in for a few minutes before and then after the sessions.
"At every single event this week, the press has been invited in some fashion," said Jackie Schutz, spokeswoman.
None of the listening tour events has been open to the general public.
Schutz said the meetings were restricted in most cases to allow for a more comfortable dialogue between Scott and the invited participants. But it hasn't gone over well with some school board members.
In Duval County, board members were told in advance that they wouldn't be allowed - and they weren't happy about it. In Pinellas County, some board members also were irked. (They also were told that they could greet the governor, but would be asked to leave the room when the sessions started.)
The governor's office eased the restrictions somewhat today. In Fort Myers, Schutz said reporters were allowed to listen in on the sessions, so long as they turned off the television cameras. In Pinellas County, the media was invited back into the room for both sessions - though only after a reporter raised concerns about possible Sunshine Law violations because three board members hadn't left.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, board members can attend the same event without violating the Sunshine Law so long as they don't discuss any business that could come before the board. But it's difficult to know if they are speaking - or what about - if no one else is allowed in the room.
Board member Linda Lerner said board members understand the Sunshine and wouldn't have spoken, but she thought the sessions should have been open to the media anyway.
The governor has held sessions in Jacksonville, Miami, Fort Myers and Boca Raton. He is scheduled to be in Orlando Thursday.
Here's a copy of the directives that board members received from the governor's office: (Pam Stewart, the state's interim education commissioner, is mentioned below, but wasn't at the event.)
- The principal and district representatives, including any board members in attendance, will have the opportunity to welcome the governor upon his arrival and be able to stay in the Media Center for a few minutes at the start of each discussion. Members of the media also will be allowed in the room at the start of the discussions. After the first few minutes, a member of the governor's staff will ask guests to leave the Media Center, leaving only Gov. Scott and Pam Stewart to meet with each group.
- Reporters will be allowed back in to the Media Center at the end of each discussion to ask the governor a few questions at the direction of the governor's press secretary.