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BREVARD COUNTY: How Can So Much Go So Wrong From So Many Sources?

We had debated as to whether we would do a traditional “April Fools” post like we have done in the past and other sites do, but somehow that idea seemed inappropriate at this time given COVID-19 and the surrounding issues.

We should have known we’d have plenty of fools to write about.

Our mail box was flooded yesterday with people saying “did you see that you were mentioned in the Florida Today?” and then supplying the link.

Intrigued, we went to the Florida Today site and saw this in an opinion piece from Isadora Rangel:

[Brevard County Clerk of the Courts Scott] Ellis said people like Burns — and, for example, the local right-leaning blog Raised on Hoecakes — serve a purpose to bring things to light. It’s up to the public to decide whether to believe what they write — not government’s.

We appreciate the shout out from Ellis.

Rangel writes about the continuing war of some officials against certain members of the media. In the case that triggered the article, Democratic operative and thorn in the side of County Commissioner Bryan Lober was removed by Deputy Sheriffs at “press briefing” on March 24, 2020 on the situation of the COVID-19 in Brevard County.

The meeting was filmed and live streamed by the Florida Today and can be seen here.

At roughly 41 minutes into the video, while someone else is at the podium, Lober can be seen in the background pointing, nodding and making a dismissive hand gesture (as in “take them out.”) At that moment, although it is not on camera and nothing can be heard, Burns is being removed from the press conference.

Perhaps Lober wanted to get an early start on being a fool for April 1st, but his actions are way out of line ethically and legally.

At the start of the actual appearance of people in the video around 33:00 a voice can be heard and self-identifying as being from the site Space Coast Daily. The voice states that the press conference is being held with members of the 10 person “Brevard Policy Group.”

We were able to identify at least three of the people on the Policy Group that were at the “press conference.”

They are Commissioner Bryan Lober, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, and Brevard County Fire Rescue Chief Mark Schollmeyer.

Here’s where things get tricky as far as we are concerned.

According to state law, multiple members of the same board talking together about issues that may or likely will come up for discussion in front of a voting Council / Commission are not just press conferences, they are meetings.

Advisory boards and committees created by public agencies may be subject to the Sunshine Law, even though their recommendations are not binding upon the entities that create them.

The “dispositive question” is whether the committee has been delegated “decision-making authority,” as opposed to mere “information-gathering or fact-finding authority.” Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government v. City of Sarasota, 48 So. 3d 755, 762 (Fla. 2010). “Where the committee has been delegated decision-making authority, the committee’s meetings must be open to public scrutiny, regardless of the review procedures eventually used by the traditional governmental body.”

[….]

The Sunshine Law does not establish a lesser standard for members of advisory committees that are subject to the Sunshine Law. See Monroe County v. Pigeon Key Historical Park, Inc., 647 So. 2d 857, 869 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994) (“[T]he Sunshine Law equally binds all members of governmental bodies, be they advisory committee members or elected officials”). Accordingly, in the absence of statutory exemption, any gathering of two or more members to discuss any matter on which foreseeable action may be taken must be open to the public, noticed to the public, and minutes kept.

Furthermore:

Section 286.011, F.S., applies to public boards and commissions, i.e., collegial bodies, and has been applied to meetings of “two or more members” of the same board or commission when discussing some matter which foreseeably will come before the board or commission. Therefore, the statute does not ordinarily apply to an individual member of a public board or commissionor to public officials who are not board or commission members.

Three members of the Policy Board were at the “press conference” and referring questions and discussions to each other.

It should also be noted that the recommendation on closing the beaches of the Policy Group was discussed at the County Commission meeting on March 27.

Follow us here….Policy Group Members meet discuss, and exchange thoughts and then their recommendations are voted upon at a Commission meeting. We are checking all the boxes for the only logical conclusion.

We believe that bumps the “press conference” up to a meeting – a meeting that needed to be held in light of the Sunshine Laws which means that Burns had every right to be at the meeting / press conference whether he is considered a member of “press” or not.

Furthermore, whether press conference or meeting, Burns was not creating a disturbance.

There is nothing on the video or from any other source that indicates Burns was loud or disruptive.

Lober is the first fool in this parade of fools who thinks that he has the right to control citizens at public meetings and even press conferences when they are not breaking the law.

We understand that Lober’s action are because of hatred Burns (which is reciprocated by Burns to Lober,) but that hatred does not excuse Lober from following the law.

As we are talking about the law, the next set of fools are intertwined: Sheriff Ivey and the Deputy who removed Burns.

There was no legal basis for Burns’ removal. None. Ivey should have known that (or perhaps he was too busy primping for the cameras,) but he has a legal duty to not act contrary to the law. After all, he did swear to uphold the law when he took office. Just because he may not like Burns or even the Florida Today does not give him the right to act in an illegal manner just as those who do not like him or law enforcement in general can break the law in a display of their hatred.

The same can be said of the deputy. The fact that he would willingly follow an order from Lober and or Ivey that is illegal on its face shows a lack of character and lack of commitment to the laws of the State of Florida.

Lober, Ivey and the unnamed Deputy. All three fools on this April Fools day.

Rangel must have seen the fools hats on others and felt she needed to get one as well.

Now let’s be absolutely clear here.

In no way am I comparing Burns’ work with that of real and respected journalists like The Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klass, the reporter excluded from the governor’s briefing; nor am I endorsing the accuracy and standards of The Space Coast Rocket.

But that’s not the point. The point is that government cannot arbitrarily exclude people from a briefing in an apparent attempt to retaliate against that’s person’s speech — at least not from a news conference that:

  • Was announced to at least the 18,000 people who subscribe to the county’s news releases, according to county spokesman Don Walker. The news release didn’t specify who was allowed there or not.
  • Did not have an approved list of attendees, unlike with briefings (i.e. in the White House) where there’s limited space or a background screening is required.
  • Did not have any requirements that you show proof you are with a “legitimate” news outlet.

(emphasis ours)

“Real and respected journalists?”

What the heck does that mean?

In reality, not a darn thing.

One of the great questions of our time came closer to resolution last week, when a federal court ruled that bloggers are journalists—at least when it comes to their First Amendment rights.

The Ninth Circuit ruled as such on Friday in Obsidian Finance Group v. Crystal Cox, a complicated case first decided in 2011. The court found that even though someone might not write for the “institutional press,” they’re entitled to all the protections the Constitution grants journalists.

[….]

The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both sides of a story. As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable: “With the advent of the Internet and the decline of print and broadcast media . . . the line between the media and others who wish to comment on political and social issues becomes far more blurred.” (emphasis in original)

Rangel is trying to make a distinction where none exists. Perhaps it is her way of trying to elevate her position and stature in life – either in her own mind or that of the public.

The fact of the matter is that the only difference between “blogger” and “journalist” is in name only. Rangel is a fool for believing otherwise.

We do agree with the central point raised by Ellis and Rangel in that the more sources that are disseminating information is a good thing. Differences between elected officials and outlets should not get in the way of an informed public.

Lober, Ivey and the Deputy Sheriff were wrong in their actions and no amount of justification can change that. The people of Brevard – all of us – deserve an apology.

At the end of the day, what needs to be remembered is that elected officials serve the public – even members of the public they don’t like and don’t like them.



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  1. […] our post on April 1, 2020 concerning the outrageous actions of County Commissioner Bryan Lober, Sheriff Wayne Ivey and an […]

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