Rick Kriseman won't be sworn into office as St. Petersburg mayor for two weeks, and already he is struggling to fulfill his campaign pledge on open government. First his transition team planned to hold meetings in secret. Kriseman stopped that, but now he has held a private conference call with City Council members that skirts the intent of Florida's Sunshine Law. That violates the mayor-elect's promise to be transparent, and council members risk violating the law if they don't draw clear lines now.
State law and the Florida Constitution are clear. Two City Council members cannot talk privately about public business, yet Kriseman invited the entire council to participate in the private call. He exploited a legal loophole that allows council members to speak out of the sunshine if they aren't discussing public business, and he described it as a social call. Two council members who are lawyers, Jim Kennedy and Charlie Gerdes, recognized at least the appearance of a possible sunshine violation and smartly declined to get on the line.
The St. Petersburg mayor is not a member of the City Council and can privately discuss public business with individual council members. Former Mayor Rick Baker used that method to his advantage as he built relationships, lined up support for his initiatives and offered to help council members with their priorities. But holding phone calls or meeting privately with the entire council crosses the line, erodes public confidence and leaves council members vulnerable to violating the law. There is only so much to say about kids and vacations before the social talk turns to the Pier or the baseball stadium stalemate.
Kriseman says his intentions were pure and voters have to trust him. They trust the incoming mayor to fulfill his campaign promises, conduct public business in public and not tempt City Council members to violate the law. A private conference call with the City Council violates that trust. As a former City Council member and state legislator, Kriseman knows better.