Martino: Lack of Transparency Thwarts the Intent of the Sunshine Law

It’s a new year, 2016, but it’s the same old business as usual concerning the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens. The Palm Beach Post delivered new, and heretofore, unknown information concerning the “baseball stadium fiasco” of 2013 and 2014 further delineating unknown facts about the City’s deep rooted secretive involvement, such as, the City Manager gallivanting around the USA and Canada promoting a Gardens site for a $100,000,000 baseball stadium while the City Council claims it knows nothing. The Avenir project was given initial approvals to join the City after 485 housing units were mysteriously deleted from its application without any acknowledgement of same at the scheduled Quasi-Judicial Public Hearing. The City residents of Shady Lakes brought their concerns to the City Council regarding the extension of Shady Lakes Drive and were berated by the Mayor before being dismissed without answers. A City facility was dedicated to a City Council member for the first time in the City’s 57-year history yet, shamefully, it was not an advertised agenda item for Public consumption and comment. There is a common thread that binds all of these “accomplishments” together.

That thread is transparency or in these particular issues the lack of it. Florida has an exacting Sunshine Law that applies to all levels of government. It demands that the thought processes, actions, conversations, and subsequent votes that governing bodies take be subject to the Public’s scrutiny at all intervals of the process. Concerning the above issues, it is my opinion, that this current City Council has violated, or at the very least ignored, the intent of Florida’s Sunshine Law.

One might ask how that can be. The answer is a simple one. From my perspective, transparency, in an acceptable form was absent in the decision-making process concerning the above. The City Council did not advertise, publish a notice, discuss, disclose in Ex Parte, vote, and or meet in the Council chambers, to inform the Public of their conversations or policy intentions, as and where appropriate, concerning these issues.

Taking into consideration just these three issues, it is my opinion and conclusion, that the City Council has a problem or two or more:

  • One scheduled regularly meeting a month with the Public is totally insufficient to properly keep the Public informed, therefore, a problem.
  • Not holding regular workshop meetings is a problem.
  • Not recognizing that the City Manager meanders into the policy realm is a problem.
  • Presenting a hostile attitude toward residents, who address the City Council with their perceived problems, like them or not, is a problem.
  • Not making concise and clear motions for policy directions is a problem.
  • Decision-making without regard for Ex Parte, transparency, and the Sunshine Law is a major problem.

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