Today there is a entrenched mindset in city hall that it is OK to continue to have secret 1 on 1 meetings with and amongst council members because someone found a loop-hole in the Florida Sunshine Law and find no reason not to exploit it
As you know Florida Legislators in their infinite wisdom knew there would be times that the local governing body’s would need to meet in private to discuss sensitive issues (i.e pending litigation; labor negotiations etc. ) thus provided for those type meetings (aka Shade meeting ) within the provisions of the Sunshine Law. The legislators clearly codified the parameters for said meetings. But unfortunately there are always some amongst us that will find & pursue loop-holes in our laws.
I am sure that most of our council feels a little guilty about skirting around this law with these secret meetings but they go along to get along. But there are others at city hall that have a mindset that conducting business in full view of the public is a real pain-in-the-ass. They have a arrogant view that the average citizen is just too stupid to understand all the complex issues of government operations and should be kept in the dark. Only they know whats best for us.
As a prime example of this arrogance, look too the City Managers email files. For years, up till the past few months the managers email communications (excluding sensitive items) were available for review by the public (with excellent spam filters) . But recently spam filters were disabled and little or no real communications to and from the manager remains, just mostly spam. He is either not doing any work or he has an alternate secret means of communication. So much for transparency in Port Orange city hall.
Covert government business will continue at Port Orange city hall until at least 3 councilman stand up and say “Enough Is Enough“
Recently on POGTV, a video of former Mayor Jim Ward was shown. Mr. Ward gave a presentation at the Port Orange Library and reminisced about the old days in Port Orange and his experiences when he was Mayor of Port Orange. In the presentation he mentioned how nice News-Journal reporter John Wisnewski had been to Port Orange. I remember when I started attending city council meetings in 1994 or thereafter I wondered who the gentleman was seated at a table up on the dais. I learned he was John Wisnewski reporting the city council meetings for the News-Journal.
Mr Ward told about when there had been an FBI investigation of the city of Port Orange government, Wisnewski did not report the investigation until it was concluded and no criminal action was taken. Also, the reporter had come to Mayor Ward in those years to tell him that something had to be done about a city council member who was rumored to have been taking some kind of financial bribes for his actions as a city council. The mayor met with the city councilman the following day, confronted him with what was known, and the council man resigned.
Mr. Ward commented that John Wisnewski never wrote about the allegations thus saving the city from embarrassment.
I wonder if Mayor Allen Green misses the good old days when with team players, embarrassments could be hidden from the public. It appears to me that some elected officials can’t seem to come to terms that the political environment has changed and today’s citizens clamor for transparency. I deserve the right to remind Mayor Green that back around 2008 when the political climate in the nation was changing, and that it would catch up with what seemed to me previously rehearsed city council meetings, with little information providing background for decisions made being provided to the citizens watching the city council meetings. And boy oh boy, has that citizen/political climate hit the Port Orange City Council. I suggested that the way city council meetings were being conducted without reasons stated for certain decisions, that suspicions and speculations would arise with the perception of nefarious back room dealings taking place. I stated that I would be asking hard questions of the city council to explore some speculations. Council man Steindorfer at the next city council meeting stated that he would not answer any questions from the man in Port Orange Images, and Mayor Green said he had some words for “him” which he could not state in public. Did they not prove my point?
I don’t think Mayor Green and the people who fly around him have come to terms with the new climate in the political arena and Port Orange. Although permitted, there are still one on one meetings with city councilmen after a request had been publicly put before the city council, but because of problems with the proposal or request the city council has not immediately voted on the issue, and sensing their request was in danger of being denied, said applicants appeal to the city council people, one on one, behind closed doors. Providing new information to a city councilman is not in itself a bad thing, but since the request has already been made public at a city council meeting, in the present political climate it would be better to provide new information to the city councilman publicly in a city council meeting. If the by chance the applicant wants to make promises to a city councilman, let the applicant do it in public, if you get the gist of my suspicion.
Not too long ago, the Grand Master Developer of the Riverwalk Project, who represents private enterprises which have gobbled up the golden prime section of the river front, summoned city council people to meet in his office, on a one to one basis, to discuss problems in land ownership of the future Riverwalk. I am not sure which council men went to LaCour’s office for that meeting, but I do remember to my gratification that Councilman Ford refused to meet one on one with Mr. LaCour in LaCour’s office.
So the battle still endures. The fight of elected politicians to skirt transparency, or should it be written the right of elected politicians to skirt transparency. I am amused with some explanations which declare that there will be a meeting involving a governmental agency and another party and although the details of the meeting will not be disclosed to the public, this meeting can not be portrayed as a secret meeting, and the governmental agency is being transparent about such meeting or meetings. Indeed! Two governmental agencies recently met behind closed doors to discuss the issue of 1.3 million dollars owed to taxpayers in the City of Port Orange and no details of that meeting were made known to the public, except that the 1.3 million dollars owed would not be paid to the city of Port Orange. Score one for non transparency.
And so it goes. Mayor Green, Port Orange has really changed since you were born in the city, hasn’t it. I bet you miss the old times when team players saved the city from embarrassments. Did I not warn you that a new political climate would probably come to Port Orange? I do not mind telling you, I told you so. I bet you have some more words for me that you can not say in public. 386 852 3178.