Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Wednesday she now has evidence Gov. Ron DeSantis wasn’t being honest when he refused to honor her requests for a Cabinet meeting to discuss state business.
For weeks, DeSantis has cited “health concerns” as the reason the state’s top elected officials should not convene for their monthly meeting amid the coronavirus pandemic. But on Tuesday, the governor held a news conference at a Miami COVID-only nursing facility and allowed reporters to be packed into a small space in the building where 18 COVID-positive patients were being treated.
It was then that she decided that health concerns for his public events are, in fact, not his priority.
“He can pack reporters into a facility for COVID-19-positive patients for a press conference, but he cites ‘health concerns’ while refusing to hold public meetings where citizens can regain their rights,” Fried, the sole Democrat on the Cabinet, said Wednesday.
In a June 29 email from DeSantis’ director of Cabinet affairs obtained by the Miami Herald, Beau Beaubien wrote: “In the interest of public health, we will not be rescheduling the June Clemency meeting or the meeting of the Governor and the Cabinet at this time.”
When asked why the governor has canceled the meetings but continued to hold in-person press availabilities multiple times a week, spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré said: “We will continue to review the process to provide public access to these meetings as required by law.”
The Cabinet, which is made up of DeSantis, Fried, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, last met on May 28. However, the May meeting agenda did not reflect many of the topics Fried requested that the Cabinet discuss, including wildfire conditions across the state, food distribution efforts amid high unemployment and an update from Surgeon General Scott Rivkees about COVID-19 data.
Fried was ignored for most of the meeting, which began with her asking for a moment of silence for the Americans and Floridians who have died from the novel coronavirus. DeSantis waited 10 seconds. Fried asked “for a couple of moments” to speak, but he would not recognize her.
“Clearly, the governor is focused more on managing his public image than managing this public health crisis,” she said.
There was a Cabinet meeting scheduled for June 16, which was canceled. The Cabinet was supposed to meet as the Clemency Board June 17, which was canceled as well.
As the Clemency Board, Cabinet members consider cases of convicted felons looking to restore their civil rights, including the right to vote. Voting rights advocates are concerned that by not meeting, Cabinet members are restricting who is eligible to vote in the upcoming primary and general elections.
The next Cabinet meeting is scheduled for Aug. 11. The next Clemency Board meeting is Sept. 23, more than a month after the Aug. 18 primary election.
In a statement, Patronis spokesman Devin Galletta said the CFO has had regular phone meetings with agency heads to hear concerns and stay apprised of what’s going on statewide.
“The CFO believes that nothing is more important than getting Florida safely through this pandemic and getting our economy back on its feet,” he wrote.
Moody spokesman Whitney Ray wrote in a statement that the Attorney General “looks forward to discussing Cabinet issues during the open, public meeting.”