PB: Let The Sunshine In
On Wednesday night (Aug. 7), the Palmetto Bay Village Council will convene to consider Vice Mayor John Dubois’s proposal to release all the transcripts from the council’s secret “shade sessions.”
Florida’s broad Sunshine Law makes virtually all meetings of elected bodies open to the public (i.e., held in the sunshine). One exception is that councils can meet with their attorneys to discuss litigation strategy and settlement. Once the lawsuit concludes, however, the transcripts of the attorney-client sessions (a/k/a “shade sessions”) become public records.
The county commission rarely meets outside the public view even though they are permitted to hold their own shade sessions. The reason for this policy choice is that over time the county figured out that nothing said in the shade stayed in the shade. The politicians couldn’t keep a secret for five minutes so why not just dispense with the charade?
What goes on in Palmetto Bay’s shade sessions is a badly kept secret here in our little burgh, too. Insiders know what’s been said in these meetings because our politicos also love a charade. SDM receives non-publishable rumors just about every day from people close to the council with specific details about these not-so-shaded meetings. Some rumors prove false, but SDM’s experience is they are more often right on the money.
The Queen of Charades, Mayor Stanczyk, regularly berates her colleagues and the public with her view that she desperately needs these sessions to remain outside the public’s hearing. Her favorite arguments are (a) that Palmetto Bay is just a little place that has no business being as open as the big and wealthy county, and (b) that private persons do not disclose what they say to their attorneys and the village should do likewise.
Neither argument carries much water when scrutinized. Sure, the county is huge, fat and bloated. It’s also sued constantly but it also is constantly settling lawsuits. Letting politicians weigh every decision on settlement of lawsuits just leads to fewer settlements and more money out of the taxpayer’s pockets.
Stanczyk’s other argument is just insulting. Palmetto Bay is a government – it is not a person. We are not talking about state secrets here. We are talking about lawsuits that affect every property owner in the village. If our elected officials are hearing facts, then we also have a right to hear those facts unfiltered by political spin.
Now, SDM wants to be reasonable and therefore believes the village council ought to leave the door open to holding attorney-client sessions if absolutely necessary in the future. But, the village employs a professional manager who should be meeting with the village attorney and managing any lawsuits on a financial risk basis. SDM suspects there are so many shade sessions is because the manager fears making the tough decisions without getting cover from the politicians.
While the council debates Vice Mayor Dubois’s motion, they ought to be asking how they can disengage themselves from micro-managing the legal department. Councilwoman Lindsay often says she has respect for Eve Boutsis, but demanding a shade session to go over every offer and counter-offer in settlement negotiations belies her eloquent words.
SDM Says: The council majority ought to support Mr. Dubois’s motion and let the sunshine in. Speaking of sun shining, where are those Palmer transcripts?