Dr. Erwin Jackson believes the Tallahassee City Commission violated Florida’s Sunshine Law and has filed a lawsuit with the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County.
Dr. Jackson told TR that “given the millions of dollars our city government spends on legal advice it is disappointing they can’t devise a selection process that conforms to State Sunshine Law.”
The filing states:
the City of Tallahassee, acting through the Tallahassee City Commission, made decisions on over 90 applications to fill a vacancy on the City Commission without holding a public meeting. Deciding which candidates to keep and which to reject for a public office is a quintessential governmental function. The public had a right to hear from the Commissioners about their reasoning and to offer comment on the applicants before the City Commission narrowed the applicant pool to a small group of finalists. Excluding the public from this process was a Sunshine Law violation.
The filing notes that under Florida law, “[a]ll meetings of any . . . municipal corporation . . . at which official acts are to be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, and no resolution, rule, or formal action shall be considered binding except as taken or made at such meeting. The board or commission must provide reasonable notice of all such meetings.” (286.011(1), Fla. Stat.)
The filing also cites examples from previous court cases.
For example, Jackson argues, through his attorney, that in Leach-Wells v. City of Bradenton, 734 So. 2d 1168 (Fla. 2d DCA 1999), the court concluded that the short-listing of applicants was a formal action that was required to occur at a publicly noticed meeting.
In that case, the Bradenton City Council created a committee to screen responses to a request for proposals for a large city construction contract. The committee was to review the proposals and rank the top three firms. Those firms would then make presentations to the City Council, which would select a winner.
However, the screening committee never held a public meeting; rather, it only sent its selections to the City Council for further consideration. Later, at the City Council meeting, only the three short-list firms made public presentations.
The court said that “there is no question that the committee members’ individual evaluations were tallied and acted upon, albeit by the unilateral action of the city clerk, which resulted in three bidders being selected to make presentations to the Council.”
The court concluded “that the short-listing was formal action that was required to be taken at a public meeting.”
Dr. Jackson, among other things, is seeking that the Court declare that the City violated the Sunshine Law when it took official action on the applicants to fill the vacancy on the City Commission and that the recent appointment is null and void.
The filing argues that based on the actions of the City of Tallahassee that Section 14 of the City Charter requires the Florida Governor make the appointment to fill the vacancy on the City Commission.