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Palm Bay: Pssssssssst!

The following two images are making the rounds. They are of the Mayor and City Council of Palm Bay meeting before Thursday night’s City Council meeting out of microphone range:


The sight of the City Council gathered together in hush hush discussions is problematic at best. A violation of the laws of the State of Florida when it comes to public meetings at worst.

When asked about the pre-meeting huddle, Councilman Kenny Johnson responded saying:

Good morning sir, the picture in which you are referring to prior to the council meeting was of the Mayor notifying council that the cameras are here and to not give in to the theatrics but to focus on the business at hand. I hope this answers your question but please feel free to reach out at any time.

Sincerely,
Kenny Johnson
Palm Bay City Councilman Seat 4

That’s an interesting response as it seems to indicate the Council needed to be told to “focus on the business at hand” as if that focus was lacking at some or every other meeting. Furthermore, if that was the message, why not say that to everyone assembled in the Council Chambers? Why not tell people – many of whom were first timers to meetings – of the decorum expected and needed to run an orderly meeting?

The Mayor has been asked about the meeting and his response was as the meeting took place in plain sight, it was not a violation of the Florida Laws governing meetings between public officials. He further stated that he had been advised by his attorney that as he was divulging the content of the meeting, that was fine.

For the Mayor to think that because a meeting could be seen means the meeting was in public strains credulity.

“Yeah, we can meet, you can see we meet, we just don’t have to let you hear what we are saying.”

Of course, that’s not the law. According to the State of Florida, the Sunshine Laws:

  • Prohibits board members from conducting private discussions about board business via email, telephone, text messaging, Facebook or any other form of communication.
  • Requires that any gathering (formal or casual) of two or more members of the same governing body to discuss some matter on which foreseeable action will be taken by the governing body must be open to the public unless the legislature has created an exemption from the Sunshine Law for that meeting.

Furthermore, if the Mayor wants to make a ridiculous claim that he told people what the meeting was about that absolves him of making the huddle being illegal, we disagree:

Chapter 286 PUBLIC BUSINESS: MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONSSECTION 011

2) The minutes of a meeting of any such board or commission of any such state agency or authority shall be promptly recorded, and such records shall be open to public inspection.

As the City Clerk is clearly seen away from the meeting, and she (or her office) is responsible for the meeting minutes, no minutes were taken.

Other Council members responded as well:

I did not say anything myself during that very brief moment.

Harry Santiago Jr.
Councilmember, Seat 2

My only comment was stay on point .

Thank you ,
Brian J Anderson
Deputy Mayor

Sorry gentlemen, but not saying anything or saying only one small thing doesn’t absolve you from your duty to say “we shouldn’t be doing this…”

Chapter 286 PUBLIC BUSINESS: MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONSSECTION 011

3(b) Any person who is a member of a board or commission or of any state agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision who knowingly violates the provisions of this section by attending a meeting not held in accordance with the provisions hereof is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

We won’t even get into the fact that as the Council meeting was scheduled for 7:00 PM and as this meeting took place before that, the Council did not make a notice to the people that the meeting was going to take place. That’s another violation.

What makes this meeting even more bizarre is that during public comments, one of the heads of the Palm Bay Petition Committee stated that the group had made a large public records request on the petitions, asking for emails and texts. The head of the group mentioned the low, almost zero responses to the records request saying “I got two, three, maybe four emails…no texts…”

We understand the concern.

The petitions were presented to the City during a City Council meeting. It was, as they say, done in “front of God and everyone.” Yet there were only four emails max and no texts? No followup by any member of the Council on the petitions? The Mayor later claimed that he was unaware there were issues with the petitions at the Supervisor of elections office for three months. No one said anything? No emails were sent or exchanged?

We don’t want to say this, but that indicates a tremendous failure on the part of the Council and the Mayor to make sure the petitions were being handled, or there were emails that no one wanted to disclose. The fact that no Council member seemed to care that they had not heard whether the petitions were or were not certified within three months is mind boggling.

Councilman Anderson said that Councilmembers are required to take ethics classes every year. He further stated that when he gets an records request, he responds immediately.

We are not trying to pick on Councilman Anderson here, but having the person who wrote or received the email respond to the records request allows that person to not provide the requested records or say they don’t exist.

There is history in Palm Bay on that.

Former Councilman Holton responded to a records request by saying “no record exists.”

City Clerk Jones was forced to push that lie forward to the requester.

Miraculously, after repeating the request and going through the City Attorney’s office, the record appeared and was turned over as required by law. Eureka!

We have an email that former City Attorney Lannon wrote that was never disclosed. Not only was it not disclosed, he failed to acknowledge its existence or state the reason he had not included it as required by law.

The bottom line is that a person like Councilman Anderson is not the record custodian. They are not the keeper of the records. The City is. The law requires the record custodian to respond to public records requests. As seen with Holton and Lannon, having the person who wrote or received the email fill the request is fraught with danger to the openness of the records. To have a City Councilman know the law requiring the filling of records requests or the exceptions is more than we would lay at the feet of those folks.

Given all that is happened and happening, including the “huddle meeting,” shows that the Mayor and the Council are either not informed of the depth of the Sunshine laws or are simply unwilling to follow them.

In a week that was not good for the City, one would think the Council and the City Staff would be focused on making sure they are doing everything by the book, and not what they think and want the book to say.

Perhaps there was no greater irony than that of Mayor Capote who said in response to the lack of emails from the request of the Palm Bay Petition Committee, “we don’t send emails and texts….that’s not how we communicate.”

Nope.

They communicate in meetings that violate the Sunshine Laws.



4 Responses to “Palm Bay: Pssssssssst!”

  1. Thomas Gaume says:

    I’ve heard through the grapevine that the Mayor is looking for the person that took the photos of “The Huddle”. He may want to give me a call instead of guessing where they came from.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Thomas Gaume,

      Thanks for the comment.

      The bottom line to us is that will all the stuff going on in the City, the Mayor and the City Council had to know how that meeting would be perceived.

      They are either clueless or don’t care.

      A. Afterwit.

      • Educatedbymayorcapoyte says:

        Maybe the mayor shouldn’t have held this “huddle” minutes before “educating” a citizen on sunshine laws….no wonder evertone in the meeting laughed when he decided to “educate” a citizen on the “sunshine laws”

        • Outsider says:

          Time for elected officials to stop preaching from the Dias on Sunshine laws and start leading by example. The old practice of “do as I say, not as I do just isn’t working anymore.

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