McIntosh Mirror: Reflecting news in the Tosh

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07:20.07 -- REPORT: Sunshine Law Expert: school neighborhood meetings fall under Sunshine, School board responsible, not council

By CHER PHILLIPS

First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Peterson said this afternoon in a phone interview that two council members who attended a meeting Wednesday night in McIntosh to discuss building a new school were not in violation of the Sunshine Law.

However, Peterson said any Sunshine Law violations that existed as a result of that meeting would be on the part of the McIntosh Area Charter School Board. Peterson is the president of a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Tallahassee that produces an annual publication called the Sunshine Manual, which explains the Sunshine Law and its exemptions.

"Those are meetings subject to the Sunshine," Peterson said. "The school board was responsible here."

The Mirror reported on Wednesday night that two council members, Eva Jo Callahan and Lee Deaderick, attended a meeting outside the Sunshine Law. Peterson cited a 1996 Florida State Attorney General decision when she said that the two council members would not be in violation for their attendance as long as they did not discuss issues in private.

"They can participate in the public discussion but not have private discussions," Peterson said.

An invitation to the council members said the neighborhood meetings were sponsored by the board members and the friends of McIntosh Area School. Though the meetings had been described as neighborhood meetings, they were hosted by school officials and held in the homes of school board members. The Sportsman's Cove meeting was held on private property hosted by its owner, but the discussion was led by a school board member.

Last Wednesday, the Mirror ran a posting e-mailed to the blog by Linda McCollum. Initially, the Mirror posted that everyone was welcome at these meetings. Then Thursday morning, McCollum called this reporter and asked that the clarification be made in the blog that organizers wanted residents to attend the meetings to which they were invited, when possible, to make sure there were enough refreshments to go around.

Peterson said the first violation with the neighborhood meeting would involve whether or not the meetings were properly noticed. She said posting on the blog is not sufficient, because not everyone has access to a computer. Invitations were sent out to residents per a list of registered voters, which is also insufficient. Peterson said someone who lived in another part of the county and wanted to attend wouldn't know they were welcome.

Cove residents received one of two invitations, but neither noticed that two council members would be present at Wednesday night's meeting. (Notices shown.)





Joedy Smith said at Wednesday's meeting the school officials were planning a larger meeting later so everyone could attend. But each meeting would be different, since different residents, school officials and council members participated in different meetings. Therefore, not all residents have the same access to the issues discussed.




Peterson said that two members of the same board, the council members, could participate in another board's meeting as long as their discussion was part of the meeting. But their combined presence at that meeting would have to be noticed as "two or more council members" on the public notices prior to the meeting.

Invitations to the town council members said they could attend any or all of the meetings. (Invitation shown.)




With the Sportsman's Cove meeting, notice would have had to have been made prior to the meeting by the school board that two council members would be present.

The Sunshine Law also requires that minutes be taken of public meetings. This reporter was the only person taking notes at the Wednesday night meeting.

posted by Cher @ 9:10 AM,

2 Comments:

At   July 21, 2007 5:50 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Wellllllllllllllllll. I doubt any law has been broken. It's all about what is, is. Cary

 
At   July 31, 2007 10:27 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

It is obvious that the intent of the sunshine law was broken. Just as it was broken when the town clerk stated she had called each council person, to get their opinion. Even the lucid walkup warned said clerk during the town meeting. But considering the intelligence of the council members, well what the heck.

These seem to be two of the more honest members on the board. One wants the tax payers to to fund a school for his children and the other just wants to have fun. Girls do like to have fun, ya know.

The simple truth is the States Attorney doesnt have the funds to persue these kinds of sunshine violations, unlless the issue has substantial dollars involved. In this case substantial dollars won't be envolved until the town council votes to give land or expend taxpayer funds for the charter school.

At that point when these two members vote in the afirmative or negative for funds going to the charter school, then not only the intent, but the financial fact of the sunshine law will have been broached, with enough dollars to get the states attorneys attention and most probably persue the fullest extent of the sunshine law against these two council members.

Simple stated, no members may discuss a matter to be voted upon. They can not call each other, be polled, or consider at a lunch or gathering any issue that may be decided by a vote at a town council meeting. The state of Florida takes special interest in issues that involve substantial taxpayer dollars. So you crap house lawyers say what you please your not going to face the rath.

But what the heck, Mr. Brilliant

 

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Editor and Publisher:

I'm Cher From McIntosh, FL I'm a graduate student at the University of Florida working on a master's degree in Mass Communication. While I was finishing my undergrad degree in journalism last year, I reported on McIntosh, Fla. for an in-depth reporting class. I figured that the reporting and the public record files should go somewhere people can access them. Reporters don't report to keep the information they find to themselves. Some of that reporting is included here in a forum that allows response. McIntosh suffers because with no news coverage, the local government and the rumor mill have too much potential to run rampant over residents. I moved to McIntosh in the fall of 1999. My profile

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