PB: Shady Village Council Fights Transparency
Shade Session Transcripts Should Be Released to the Public Now
Florida law is very clear on when the transcripts of village shade session must be released:
The transcript shall be made part of the public record upon conclusion of the litigation. § 286.011, Fla. Stat.
But in Palmetto Bay, the land of transparency when convenient, there are many ways to interpret the law to avoid disclosure to the public:
1. The six different lawsuits are “intertwined” according to Village Attorney Eve Boutsis.
This despite the fact that the legislature did not provide for withholding public records based on such an undefined concept. Nor has Palmetto Bay adopted a policy stating that it will withhold from the public certain records of lawsuits when the actions are hypothetically “intertwined.”
Boutsis stated clearly that the Attorney General “punted” on whether “intertwined” lawsuits is an exception to the law that states shades session transcripts for concluded litigation “shall be made part of the public record.” (In fact, the letter from the A.G., to which SDM linked in yesterday’s post PB: Roberts Rules Guest Post by Vice Mayor John Dubois, does not address intertwined lawsuits.)
SDM Says: Given that the statute is mandatory – note the use of the word “shall” – the conservative reading of the statute is that the transcripts must be released. Any attorneys out there want to opine on this question?
2. Mayor Stanczyk argued that the village “can’t extract one thing,” presumably meaning that the council debated settling all the lawsuits together so there is no way to separate the discussions on the concluded and pending lawsuits.
The village would have to argue in court that the legislature’s use of the word “shall” permits an exception when the council is entertaining a global settlement of multiple lawsuits with the same party on the same facts. Of the arguments made at the Monday meeting, this one is most technically intriguing.
SDM Says: The problem with the Mayor’s argument is that courts have already solved this problem; they regularly require redaction. Therefore, under The Stanczyk Exception, the clerk should make a good faith effort to release the transcripts with any comments related to pending litigation redacted from the document. To argue that every comment or statement made during the shade sessions is privileged under the statute strains credulity.
3. Mayor Stanczyk proffered another rationale for withholding public records when she articulated what SDM calls the “Little Village Exception” to the Public Records Act.
Though both the county and Palmetto Bay are governed by the same statutory provisions, Stanczyk argues that the village should hide records from taxpayers because the county is a “mighty beast” and Palmetto Bay is just a little (backward and mismanaged) municipality. [Okay, SDM added something there. :) ]
SDM Says: This is just more nonsense and the Village Attorney has a duty to advise the Mayor that there is no exception to the Public Records Act based on a municipality’s size or wealth.
The bottom line is really a question of public policy: should the taxpayers be granted access to their government’s official deliberations once the litigation is concluded? Three of Palmetto Bay’s elected officials – Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, Councilwoman Joan Lindsay and Councilman Tim Schaeffer (The Three Amigos live!) – voted to keep the facts from the people who elected them.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Palmetto Bay Officials also Withhold Their Laws from the Public
SDM went on municode.com while researching this post. The village directs the public to Municode to review the village’s code of ordinances, including the charter. Would you be surprised if SDM told you that the village has not updated Municode since June 4, 2012?
SDM Says: The Village of Palmetto Bay and its leaders pay lip service to transparency and anyone who continues to believe their assertions to the contrary is ignoring the plain facts and some serious incompetence.