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Building's fate raises Sunshine Law issue

Did two City Council members working feverishly to save a fire-damaged building from destruction violate the state's open government laws?

Council members Linda Saul-Sena and Mary Alvarez say no.

But the two spent much of the day Wednesday talking with an attorney, city officials, historic preservationists and others about ways to stop imminent demolition of a 90-year-old building in Ybor City.

According to Florida law, two or more members of a public body can't discuss issues that might come before them for a vote without notifying and opening the meeting to the public and keeping proper records. The law applies even to informal social events.

"I can only assume nothing was discussed that's likely to come before them," said City Attorney David Smith, who said he usually advises "clients to avoid situations that can present the appearance of a problem."

Late Wednesday, Alvarez and Saul-Sena met with city staff and others involved in determining the building's fate.

Saul-Sena said she talked to Smith via cell phone just before the meeting, and he reminded her of the state's laws.

The meeting had been going for about 15 minutes when a St. Petersburg Times reporter arrived, according to Cyndy Miller, director of the city's growth management and development services department.

Miller told the reporter to leave. When he noted the presence of two council members made it an open meeting, Saul-Sena left.


City Council chooses two replacements

As elections go, all went smoothly Thursday, and the Tampa City Council had two new members.

City Council members selected attorney Chip Fletcher and Sickle Cell Association president Frank Reddick to fill the seats left vacant last month when Rose Ferlita and Kevin White resigned to run for the Hillsborough County Commission.