NEW PORT RICHEY — So much for that closed-door meeting on Pasco Sheriff Bob White's budget appeal.
County Attorney Jeff Steinsnyder told Pasco commissioners Tuesday he still believes they were within their right to hold the private meeting, which had been scheduled for that day.
But he advised against the session, saying it was too soon to have anything to discuss that meets the high standards for barring the public, such as a potential settlement with White.
What he did not say: that White was correct when he argued last week that commissioners had no business holding a private session because the appeal process does not qualify as litigation.
"I believe at this time it is premature to have such a meeting," said Steinsnyder.
White wants the county to give his office another $4 million, in large part to hire 28 new deputies for the west side. He appealed to the Florida governor and Cabinet after commissioners voted to hold his budget flat at $85.5 million. If the request proceeds past the staff levels, the case will be heard sometime next year.
Commissioners last Tuesday scheduled a rare closed-door meeting to discuss their options for White's appeal. Their argument: White has the advantage of meeting privately with his attorneys; why couldn't they?
But the next day, White sent a letter to commissioners objecting to the scheduled private meeting and calling it a violation of Florida's Sunshine law. He cited a 1975 ruling from the 1st District Court of Appeal that said the action of the governor and Cabinet on a budget appeal is not a judicial function but an administrative function.
Steinsnyder said Tuesday that subsequent cases have established the board's authority to hold private "litigation assessment meetings."
But, he acknowledged, the commission could have come under fire for holding a private session at this point.
"If there's no precise reason to meet in the shade," he said in an interview, "then I'm not going to subject my board to that."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.