Florida is famous for its, “Sunshine Law.”
Well, it's a group of laws. A portion of the Sunshine Law regulates public meetings and records. Basically, it means your government needs to meet in public and that government records are open to the public.
So why are we talking about this?
Allegedly, a group has said the mayor of Fort Myers Beach , Tracey Gore, and a City Council member, Dennis Boback, were hanging out at the Beached Whale.
Now if they weren’t discussing public business, it is not a problem. But the group said they were with a woman who is suing the town over the new Margaritaville Resort, which wants to build want a 7 acres campus nearby Times Square on Fort Myers Beach. If they were talking about that project or any other city business, they open themselves to exposure of committing a Florida Sunshine Law violation.
People who deal with open records commonly refer to Florida’s Sunshine Law as the gold standard of open records and meetings laws across the country.
The first open record law was passed in Florida in 1909 and it was 36 words long. It provided that any records, which were made or received by a public agency in the course of its official business, must be available for inspection.
It’s grown considerably. It is about 1,000 words and covers everything from county meetings to court rooms. It’s so important that in 1992, Floridians voted to make it a constitutional amendment. While the law has changed — including photographs, sound recordings and computer records — its meaning has pretty much stayed consistent.
All Florida county and municipal records, including meetings, with two or more elected members must be open to the public.
The only exception is personal matters, such as an agency hiring or firing an employee; collective bargaining sessions; discussions with agency attorneys; and the discussion of the sale or acquisition of public property, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The law prevents your city council from meeting behind closed doors, or for instance, at a bar, and proceed to raise your garbage fees. The Sunshine Law also dictates that law makers in Tallahassee can’t close a meeting to the press, then sell Everglades National Park to the highest bidder.
To put it simply, these laws are important to holding government accountable, not just for the press, but for you — the public — as well.