Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida senators violated open meeting rules at Governor's Mansion, First Amendment lawyer says

TALLAHASSEE — Three top Senate Republicans violated their chamber's own open meeting requirement when they discussed the state budget at a private dinner with Gov. Rick Scott, a First Amendment attorney said Tuesday.

"The meeting was held in a location not open to the public," said Jim Rhea, director of the Florida First Amendment Foundation. "And people who asked to attend were not permitted to come in."

Senate President Mike Haridopolos' spokesman, David Bishop, said, "We disagree," but would not elaborate.

Haridopolos, who removed the door of his office last month to demonstrate his commitment to open government, was aware that his top budget writer, Sen. J.D. Alexander of Lake Wales, and two other senators were dining with Scott at the mansion on Monday, the day Scott unveiled his budget proposal.

A public notice about the dinner was posted on the Senate website on Monday. But Senate rules also require meetings to be reasonably open to the public. Bishop did not respond to a question about how the meeting satisfied that rule.

Bishop was informed Monday that Scott's spokesman, Brian Burgess, said the meeting was not open and denied a request from the Times/Herald on Monday to observe the dinner.

Scott scheduled the meeting as a "social dinner" with Alexander, Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville and Sen. Andy Gardiner of Orlando.

Scott's guest list also included two reporters. But neither Senate rules nor the state Constitution stipulates that including selected media at an event absolves elected officials from opening meetings to the public.

One of the reporters, Gary Fine­out, who reports for the bill tracking service LobbyTools, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and other outlets, wrote on his Fine Print blog that Alexander talked about Scott's budget proposal and Scott urged him to "just pass it."

Later in the dinner, one of Scott's top aides told senators that the nation would be watching to see whether lawmakers pass Scott's "fiscally conservative" budget.

Gaetz and Alexander also talked about the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which helps build low-income housing.

Alexander noted the surplus of homes on the market and questioned the need for low-income housing. Scott said he didn't ask for any new money for the group.

The lawmakers also talked about changes to Citizens Property Insurance Corp.; weigh stations along state highways; attracting new Major League Baseball teams to Florida; and a bill being written by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, that would ban the use of psychotropic drugs on foster children.

Asked about the meeting on Tuesday, Scott said, "I'm comfortable we comply with the law."

Times/Herald writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Michael C. Bender can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCBender.

Florida senators violated open meeting rules at Governor's Mansion, First Amendment lawyer says 02/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 11:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst


    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.