Newly elected or appointed officials in Anna Maria will get the city’s annual serving of Florida’s Sunshine Law at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.
City attorney Jim Dye will head the annual seminar on Florida’s Sunshine Laws and public records laws for newly elected officials and recently appointed members of boards and committees.
The city holds the yearly seminar following the swearing in of newly elected officials.
Along with the new elected officials — Commissioners John Quam, Dale Woodland and SueLynn — new members of the planning and zoning board, capital improvements advisory committee, the environmental education and enhancement committee and the code enforcement board are required to attend.
City clerk Alice Baird said Holmes Beach officials, board/committee members and staff have been invited to attend Anna Maria’s seminar. Dye’s law firm, Dye Dietrich Petruff and St. Paul, P.A., provides legal counsel to both Anna Maria and Holmes Beach.
Dye said it’s not a bad idea for current Anna Maria commissioners, committee members, and the mayor to attend for a refresher on Florida’s Sunshine Laws and to learn of new court opinions and rulings on the applicable laws.
Anna Maria is required to hold a Sunshine Law seminar following each election because of a 2000 court order that resulted from a settlement of a case that involved the mayor’s denial to The Islander of access to public records.
Florida’s Sunshine laws are divided into two parts, public meetings and public records, Dye said.
A public meeting is any meeting between “two or more people who can take action” on an issue, Dye said. Such meetings must be properly noticed to the public.
“Take action” means there could be an official vote by the same two people at the same time on an issue, then or in the future, that has a binding effect.
Public notice requires the city to display an announcement of the meeting in a public location at least 24 hours before the meeting. The meeting notice must contain a specific date, time, location and subject.
Dye said it’s a misunderstanding that some believe a city commissioner can’t discuss an issue with a planning and zoning board member without a public notice. Those two people do not sit at the same voting table, are “not on the same body,” and thus are permitted to discuss issues without public notice, he said.
Joint commission-P&Z board work sessions do not have to be publicly noticed because no binding vote is taken at such sessions.
Because the mayors of Anna Maria and Holmes Beach do not have a vote on the commission, commissioners can discuss issues individually with the mayor without a public notice. Two or more commissioners cannot meet with the mayor at the same time regarding city business.
Neither the mayor nor city attorney, however, can act as a conduit between commissioners, and both city’s mayors have a veto vote on legislative matters.
E-mails are relatively new to the public records laws, Dye said, but have been dealt with by the Florida Supreme Court in various rulings.
Dye said the court has ruled that e-mails about city business to and from public officials, or an elected official and a private citizen, are official documents that need to be available to the public. As long as one party involved in sending or receiving the e-mails is subject to the public records laws, the transmissions are public documents, he said.
However, Dye said, a “one-way” e-mail, where no reply is requested, is the exception to the public records law requirements.
“As long as there is no dialogue and no response,” these e-mails do not violate the Sunshine Law, he said.
The City of Anna Maria learned about public and private e-mails in 2010, when then-Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus was sending and receiving e-mails about city business to and from private individuals.
Some 800-plus e-mails about public business were eventually disclosed, resulting in Stoltzfus’ recall from office in a September 2010 recall election.