On November 19, 2020, Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, in a Manatee County Commission special meeting, introduced a resolution that appears to “normalize” bringing items before the Commissioners that are not on the agenda and potentially passing them at that meeting. The purpose, in her words, is to “speed things up”.
The other 3 commissioners requested time to review it and the implications. They were clearly disturbed by not understanding the resolution or its implications. It passed with the votes of Commissioner Baugh and the 3 new commissioners, who had only been in office less than 3 days.
Although the Sunshine Law does not require commissions to post an agenda or give notice of each item of business, the Attorney General’s Office has advised local governments to postpone formal action on controversial matters that have not been noticed to the public. AGO 03-53.
As the Attorney General has explained, the purpose of the notice requirement of the Sunshine Law is “to apprise the public of the pendency of matters that might affect their rights, afford them an opportunity to appear and present their views, and afford them a reasonable time to make an appearance if they wished.” AGO 03-53, citing Rhea v. City of Gainesville, 574 So. 2d 221, 222 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991). A commission may consider an issue that has not been noticed; however, to follow the spirit of the Sunshine Law, a “commission should be sensitive to the community’s concerns that it be allowed notice, and therefore, meaningful participation on controversial issues coming before the commission.” AGO 03-53. Raising and deciding issues at a meeting may frustrate the spirit of the law and an open decision-making process.
Lets look at the ways this was not good governance and violated the spirit of the Sunshine Law, in our opinion:
- In the ruling in the above case, it did not make passage of an item not on the agenda a violation of the Sunshine Law because the Secretary of State’s office did not want to preclude the public from bringing up items not on the agenda. Commissioner Baugh knew she was going to bring up the resolution before the meeting and chose not to reveal to fellow commissioners or the public so neither could have meaningful consideration or participation. Zero for the public.
- As part of the ruling, the Attorney General’s Office has advised boards to postpone formal action on any added items that are controversial.
- No need was stated for the rush to pass this resolution other that it would “speed things up”.
- There was no example of how this change would have been of benefit in the past or the future.
- The 3 dissenting commissioners were clearly disturbed by the lack of understanding of the resolution and the possible negative implications of the resolution. They strongly requested for more time to review the change.
- Normalizing the passage of items without time to consider all the implications can lead to lawsuits, and more time and money for the county, more negative feelings and further splits and frustrations in our county.
- Normalizing the passage of items that have not been given public notice will “frustrate the spirit of the law and an open decision-making process”
We urge the county commissioners to review the resolution, determine its legal status and the pros and cons. If this resolution does not serve a useful purpose, resend it.