Monday, August 13, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Florida House should not shred open meetings law

For decades, Florida has been a national leader in requiring the public's business to be conducted in the sunshine. Today, the Florida House is poised to return the state to the dark ages with legislation that would allow two members of the same government board or commission to discuss government issues in secret. This is an egregious assault on one of the most precious protections Floridians have to ensure public officials are held accountable, and it cannot be tolerated.

Florida's "Government-in-the-Sunshine Law" requires all city councils, school boards, county commissions and other government boards to meet in public, provide advance public notice of those meetings and keep records of what happens. The Florida Supreme Court reasonably defined meetings as two or more members of the same panel, and that has been the standard for nearly 50 years. Voters even added protections for open meetings to the Florida Constitution in 1992.

Yet today, the House will consider legislation that would eviscerate those protections. The bill, HB 843, would allow two members of the same board to discuss public business in private. No public notice. No minutes of what was said. The public may never know what their public officials discussed, and the public meetings of city councils, county commissions and other boards would become charades.

In other eras, such a blatant attack on open government would not have seen the light of day even in the Florida Legislature. The bill's sponsor is a freshman lawmaker, Republican Rep. Byron Donalds of Naples. His wife, Erika, is a member of the Collier County School Board. Erika Donalds was recently appointed to the Constitution Revision Commission by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. It's not hard to connect the dots and recognize why this horrible legislation is coming before the full House just a week before the end of the legislative session. Corcoran should be held just as accountable as the bill's sponsor for this attack on the public's right to watch what public officials are doing on their behalf.

This legislative session has been one of the worst for open government. A bill already has been sent to Gov. Rick Scott that would require the identity of witnesses to murders to be kept secret for two years, which would make it harder for the public to hold police and prosecutors accountable. The House passed another bill this week to keep secret the names of applicants to become college and university presidents in a misguided notion that secrecy would produce better candidates. But this obliteration of the public meeting requirements tops them all.

The bill soft-pedals the damage by saying two board members meeting in secret could not take formal action or agree to do so at a future public meeting. Good luck enforcing that. The reality is two members privately could discuss an issue, then meet secretly with other members and predetermine the outcome of any public vote. The bill also says two members could not secretly discuss public money or a contract tied to a private business. Good luck enforcing that. The reality is secret meetings invite corruption and payoffs. And it is no comfort that two city council members could not privately discuss a contract with a construction company but could discuss in secret whether to rezone a neighborhood or award pay raises or hire more police officers.

Every legislator who supports this bill will be casting a vote against government-in-the-sunshine. They will be eroding the rights of Floridians to watch their elected officials conduct the public's business and to hold them accountable for their actions. Those who care about open government and democracy should not let them get way with it.

Comments
Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe made a reasonable decision to charge Michael Drejka with manslaughter in last month’s deadly Clearwater convenience store parking lot confrontation. The shooting, which erupted over use of a handicap parkin...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

It’s time to re-establish a permanent home for the state appeals court that serves the Tampa Bay region.It makes sense to put it in Tampa, the same as it made sense 30 years ago when the court’s operations began moving piece by piece up Interstate 4 ...
Published: 08/09/18
Updated: 08/10/18
Editorial: A big first step toward improving transportation in Hillsborough

Editorial: A big first step toward improving transportation in Hillsborough

The Hillsborough County transit referendum that has made the November ballot is significantly stronger than two efforts that failed to reach the end zone in the past decade. The one-cent sales surtax would generate enough money to meaningfully improv...
Published: 08/09/18
Editorial: Bondi should stop fighting smokable medicial marijuana

Editorial: Bondi should stop fighting smokable medicial marijuana

The fight for medical marijuana in Florida should have ended with the resounding 2016 vote authorizing it in the state Constitution. Instead, the battle for access drags on, with Attorney General Pam Bondi waging the latest round in a lengthy legal b...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/10/18
Editorial: Warning signs of a mental health crisis in Florida

Editorial: Warning signs of a mental health crisis in Florida

They reach from South Florida to Tampa, from a high school to a college campus, from troubled kids to troubled parents. But there is a common thread connecting these tragedies: Florida has a mental health crisis. Addressing it would require spending ...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/10/18
Editorial: Time to pursue or sink ferry to MacDill

Editorial: Time to pursue or sink ferry to MacDill

A proposal to use local money to ferry workers to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa always has been a questionable idea. The loss of nearly $5 million in federal money toward the project makes it all the more suspect. It’s time the ferry supporters off...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/10/18
Blood on the streets of Chicago

Blood on the streets of Chicago

A hot summer weekend, when Chicago should be at its most livable, brings an undercurrent of dread and horror to this city. Summer is block party season, beach season, baseball season. But in some neighborhoods, summer is killing season — when armed g...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/10/18
Editorial: FDA should not penalize premium cigars

Editorial: FDA should not penalize premium cigars

A well-meaning but poorly designed effort to keep tobacco from children could sink a niche industry and end Tampa’s fabled history as a cigar-making capital. The Food and Drug Administration needs to recognize not all tobacco products are alike...
Published: 08/06/18
Updated: 08/13/18
Editorial: New St. Petersburg Pier spot for Echelman art better, not perfect

Editorial: New St. Petersburg Pier spot for Echelman art better, not perfect

The St. Petersburg City Council has listened to the concerns of constituents and forged a compromise on where to install a signature public art piece in the new Pier District. Plans had called for an imposing aerial net sculpture to soar above Spa Be...
Published: 08/06/18
Updated: 08/07/18
Editorial: Sharpton wrong to call for sheriff’s badge in stand your ground case

Editorial: Sharpton wrong to call for sheriff’s badge in stand your ground case

The Rev. Al Sharpton misfired when he suggested Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was influenced by racial considerations when he decided not to arrest Michael Drejka for shooting and killing Markeis McGlockton in a convenience store parking lot ...
Published: 08/06/18