Story and photo by Jenna Bailey
The DeFuniak Springs City Council and Committee members held a public meeting on Monday, November 19, at 5 p.m at the DeFuniak Springs Community Center. The meeting was to discuss committee and meeting protocol and Sunshine law. DeFuniak Springs City Attorney Clay Adkinson was present to inform those in attendance on what Sunshine law is, Sunshine law violations/penalties, public records, and the ethics code.
What is Sunshine law?
Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law provides a right of access to governmental proceedings at both the state and local levels. It applies to any gathering of two or more members of the same board to discuss anticipated matters before that board for action. There is also a constitutionally guaranteed right of access. The Sunshine law requires that meetings of boards or commissions must be open to the public; reasonable notice of such meetings must be given; and minutes of the meeting must be taken. The person responsible for taking DeFuniak Springs City Council meeting minutes and committee meeting minutes is the City Clerk Loretta Laird. Committees are not responsible for writing their own minutes.
Does the law require public meetings to be audio recorded?
There is no requirement under the Sunshine law that tape recordings be made by a public board or commission, but if they are made, they become public records.
Can a city restrict a citizen’s right to speak at a meeting?
Public agencies are allowed to adopt reasonable rules and regulations which ensure the orderly conduct of a public meeting and which require orderly behavior on the part of the public attending. This includes limiting the amount of time an individual can speak and, when a large number of people attend and wish to speak, and requesting that a representative of each side of the issue speak rather than everyone present.
What is a public record?
The Florida Supreme Court has determined that public records are all materials made or received by an agency in connection with official business which are used to perpetuate, communicate or formalize knowledge. They are not limited to traditional written documents. Tapes, photographs, films and sound recordings are also considered public records subject to inspection unless a statutory exemption exists.
The Sunshine Law defines ‘meeting’ broadly to include informal meetings and electronic communications regarding agenda items. Outside of a formal board/committee meeting, members must not talk to, text, email, or otherwise communicate with any other member
personally or through any third party, about action that the board or committee may take or matters which will foreseeably come before it for action. Failure to comply with the Sunshine law can void any non-compliant actions of the board or committee.
Knowing violations of the Sunshine Law can result in 2nd degree misdemeanor charges, with penalties up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. Violations of the Sunshine Law that are not “knowing” violations are non-criminal and are punishable by a fine of up to $500. The public may bring an action to enforce the Sunshine Law. Circuit courts may issue injunctions to enforce the law.