BRE C HNE R
Volume 24, Number 10 0 A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of I, ..,1.1. i College ofJournalism and Communications U University of Florida
Governor uses Sunshine loophole for private meetings
TALLAHASSEE The governor press. Bush was able to meet with Feeney
used a loophole in the state's and McKay since the state's
Open Meetings Law to hold A C C E SS Sunshine Law is silent on
a closed meeting with two meetings between the
future leaders of the MEETINGS governor and legislative
Legislature. leaders who have yet to
In August, Gov. Jeb Bush met with take office.
Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, and Feeney and McKay are republican
Sen. John McKay, R-Bradenton, in a nominees for House Speaker and Senate
meeting off-limits to the public and president, they will not assume these posts
Council whispers overshadow meeting
ST. PETERSBURG Elected
officials who whisper rather than
speak into a microphone during
official meetings may violate the
state's Open Meeting Laws,
according to a Sunshine Law expert.
Recently, members of the St.
Petersburg City Council,
Hillsborough County Commission
and the Hernando County School
Board have been caught whispering
behind their hands to others.
"The law prohibits secret
discussion about public business,"
said Sandra Chance, director of the
Brechner Center for Freedom of
VERO BEACH A local hospital
official is refusing to release
employee names and addresses to a
nurse's union, citing a 1998
exemption by a judge in A (
Tampa from the Government
in the Sunshine laws. RE(
subsequently was ruled
unconstitutional in a case involving
Tampa General Hospital.
Indian River Memorial Hospital
president Jeff Susi said the hospital
Information at the University of Florida.
"Whispering about public business during a
public meeting or discussing public business
during a recess of a meeting not only
violates the letter of the law but the spirit of
the Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws."
The custom of whispering by elected
officials during meetings became so
prevalent last year that then-Hillsborough
County Commission chair Jan Platt asked
the county's attorney to remind
commissioners about the state law.
A memo outlining the Open Meetings
Law was issued by Senior Assistant County
Attorney Mary Helen Campbell to
union record request
does not have to follow the state's Public
Records Law and release the information to
the Teamsters Local No. 769. "I would argue
that we shouldn't expose our
C E S S employees to getting calls
during dinner," said Susi.
ORD S The union, which currently
represents 138 members of
the hospitals 440 registered nurses, has filed
an unfair-labor charge with the National
Labor Relations Board in response to the
hospital's refusal to release the information.
until after the November election.
The governor defended his meetings
with the legislators, stating that the
closed meetings gave leaders
opportunity to plan an agenda for 2001.
He also says he plans to hold these
kinds of meetings again. "There's no
secret conspiracy here, we want to have
a conversation without a lot of
scribbling," Bush said. (8/16/00)
ORLANDO The family of
drowned sea captain Frank William
"Billy" Tyne Jr. is suing makers of "The
Perfect Storm," a summer movie hit, for
depicting him in a "false and unflattering
Tyne's wife and his two daughters
suit in U.S.
Time Warner Entertainment and the two
companies involved in the film's
In their suit, they allege the film
depicted Tyne in a negative light, that it
was produced without their consent and
that it violated their privacy.
In response, Time Warner issued a
statement refuting their claims and
asserting that they did not need the
family's permission to make the film or
portray Tyne. They also refute that Tyne
was portrayed in a negative light.
The movie, based on a book by the
same name, focuses on a fishing boat
caught in a severe storm in the North
Atlantic in 1991. (8/30/00)
ACCESS MEETINGS CONTINUED
Former hospital trustee asks for legal
VERO BEACH A former hospital
trustee has asked the Indian River
County Hospital District to reimburse
him almost $9,000 for legal fees in his
defense against claims of Sunshine Law
violations. Allen Seed claims that the
district should reimburse his expenses
since the state has dropped its pursuit of
criminal charges in the case.
In March, a county grand jury issued
indictments against Seed and Richard
Aldrich, claiming the two former trustees
had knowingly violated Florida's Sunshine
Law, a misdemeanor and committed
perjury, a felony (Brechner Report, May
According to grand jury records, the
two discussed district business over
Sunrise cleared of Sunshine Law violations
SUNRISE The city has been
cleared of allegations of possible
Sunshine law violations in its
negotiations to approve a new $200
million fashion mall in Sunrise.
Judge George A. Brescher dismissed
portions of a civil lawsuit filed by
Sawgrass Mills in the 17th Judicial
Circuit, stating that the city had not
violated the Sunshine Law when City
Manager Pat Salerno and members of
his staff negotiated privately with the
Sunrise Land Group. Sawgrass Mills
operates a shopping center across the
street from the proposed site.
According to the judge's order, the
Sunshine Law applies only to meetings of
a board or commission, not of an
executive staff and a private party.
In addition, the judge also found that
the city provided sufficient public notice.
Police to limit cell phone monitoring
WASHINGTON Monitoring of
cellular phone conversations by law
enforcement officials under a
government agency order has been
limited by a federal appeals court
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia Circuit ruled that
law enforcement officials must first meet
a high burden of proof when seeking a
warrant that would allow them to monitor
a suspect's cellular phone conversation.
The decision strikes a provision of a year-
old order by the Federal Communications
Commission that had required private
companies to install equipment that could
be used by agents for surveillance purposes.
A coalition of telephone companies filed
the appeal last year, claiming that the
government order was too costly and it
might violate the constitutional rights of
cell phone users. (8/16/00)
Dancer I.D. law violates privacy
JUPITER A law requiring exotic
dancers to register with the Palm Beach
County was stripped from the books by
a judge who ruled that it violated the
privacy of the dancers.
An anonymous dancer using the
initials "D.B" filed the complaint
against the 10-month-old law. Judge
Kathleen Kroll, 15th Judicial Circuit,
ruled that requiring strippers to provide
their real names and addresses to the
county, which would then be available
through the state Public Records Law,
violated their privacy.
In addition, she noted that while the law
was aimed at keeping underage girls from
dancing at nude bars, that the law did not
require them to carry or wear the cards
while dancing, only to present the cards
within a "reasonable" time.
"This could be after the performer (who
could be a minor) performs," she wrote.
The county is appealing the ruling.
dinner last August and subsequently,
while under oath, lied about the meeting.
In a plea agreement, state prosecutors
agreed to drop the criminal aspects of the
case and revise them as civil infractions.
Under state law, the hospital's board
of trustees will make the final
determination to reimburse Seed.
on free TV offer
MELBOURNE An offer by a
citizen's watchdog group to tape and
broadcast the Palm Bay City Council
for free has been turned down by the
council, but has prompted the council
to issue a request for proposals.
The bid process will serve as a
compromise, eliminating any concerns
of partiality on the part of council
members and the public, according to
Mayor Ed Geier.
Robert Doucette, the president of
Citizens Allied for a Managed
Partnership made the initial taping offer
to the council, noting that the broadcast
will allow viewing of the meetings for
those who cannot attend the meetings,
such as shut-ins or those who cannot
drive at night.
Council sessions will be aired on
Brevard County Space Coast
Government Television. (7/23/00)
Copies ofcase opinions, attorney
general opinions, or legislation re-
portedin any issue as onfile may be
obtainedupon requestfrom the
Brechner CenterforFreedom oflnfor-
mation, College ofJournalism and
Communications, 3208 WeimerHall,
UniversityofFlorida, Gainesville, FL
32611-8400, (352) 392-2273.
The Brechner Report m October 2000
ACCESS RECORDS CONTINUED
Judge dismisses public record lawsuit
PENSACOLA A circuit judge has
refused to rule on who should be
responsible for maintaining and storing
public records by dismissing a public
records lawsuit filed by a school board
Judge Joseph Tarbuck, st Judicial
Circuit, threw out the suit, stating that it's
not his job to tell board members how to
do their jobs. The recently dismissed suit
was the latest legal maneuver between
Escambia County School Board member
Vanette Webb and the school board.
Last year, Webb was convicted of
knowingly withholding public records
from a local political activist, but the
conviction was later tossed out
(Brechner Report, December 1999).
She has also filed suit against the school
board to recoup legal costs in her
Teacher sues to regain teaching post
ST. PETERSBURG A former Pinellas Classrom Teacher's
school teacher is suing to get her job Association to represent Veronica
back, claiming her contract was not Williams.
renewed based on her comments about According to McKee, the school board
the treatment of black students in Pinellas began investigating Williams shortly
County. after a demonstration at Gibbs High,
"The school board violated Ms. where she taught. The demonstration
William's constitutional right to free was coordinated by the National
speech when it terminated her People's Democratic Uhuru Movement,
employment," said Tampa attorney Robert of which Williams is a member.
McKee. McKee was retained by the (8/24/00)
Festival violates rights, says native group
NEW PORT RICHEY A native
rights group claims that a 78-year old
street festival is defamatory in its
portrayals of American Indians and has
called for a civil rights investigation by
the state Attorney General's office.
According to the American Indian
Movement (AIM), the Chasco Fiesta
presents "defamatory, prejudicial and
dehumanizing" portrayals during the 10-
day street event.
The group has singled out the Chasco
Pageant, a dramatization of a folk tale of
Chasco, Queen of the Calusas. The tale
labels American Indians as savages and
espouses the superiority of European
culture over indigenous cultures,
according to Sheridan Murphy, AIM's
Chasco Festival organizers deny the
racist claims, "We're not getting an
opportunity to even do anything before
they've gone ahead and filed these
official complaints," said Don Zisa,
chairman of the Chasco steering
Prison magazine ban challenged
MIAMI A group of prisoners and a
magazine retailer can continue their suit
against a state prison magazine policy,
banning certain magazines, according to a
federal judge's ruling.
The prison inmates and Komar Co., a
Maryland-based magazine retailer, sued to
resume delivery of their Playboy and
Penthouse magazines in 1998.
In late August, Southern District Judge
Donald Graham ruled that there was
sufficient legal room to challenge the
policy on First Amendment grounds and
that an internal appeal process set up by
the Corrections Department may be
criminal trial, which is currently under
WEST PALM BEACH Ajudge has
refused to lift his order banning
reproduction of surveillance videotape
that shows a student shooting and killing
Judge Richard Wennet, 15th Judicial
Circuit, ruled that the school surveillance
video was a public record in the trial of
seventh-grader Nathaniel Brazill
(Brechner Report, September 2000).
The grainy videotape was shown at the
Palm Beach County Courthouse's jury
assembly room. "It is one thing for the
prospective jury pool to read a detailed
newspaper description of the videotape,
and another to have the jury pool actually
see the incident as it occurred," wrote
Those who chose to view the tape
were required to sign a form pledging not
to reproduce the tape. Brazill was
charged with first-degree murder
following the shooting of his teacher,
Barry Grunow, last May. (7/29/00)
The Brechner Report U October 2000 3
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Weimer Hall, P.O. Box 118400
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8400
Sandra F. Chance, J.D., Director/Executive Editor
Jane Inouye, Editor
Jackie Thomas, Production Coordinator
Michel Lester, Production Assistant
Bill F. Chamberlin, Ph.D., FoundingDirector
The Brechner Report is published 12 times a year
under the auspices of the University of Florida
Foundation. The BrechnerReport is a joint effort of The
Brechner CenterforFreedom ofInformation, the
University of Florida College of Journalism and
Communications, the Florida Press Association, the
Florida Association of Broadcasters, the Florida Society
of Newspaper Editors andthe JosephL. Brechner
Asking about access critical in Campaign 2000
We all know how difficult the past couple of years
have been in Florida, fighting for public access.
Unfortunately, I don't see it getting any better any time
soon. Thus, we need to try again to make public access
a campaign issue in the 2000 election.
The Here are
S k P ae some simple
Back Page ways to make
By Barbara A. Petersen that happen.
When your editorial
boards and reporters are interviewing candidates for public
office, ask that they solicit the candidates' views and opinions
regarding the public's constitutional right to oversee its
CAMPAIGN 2000 Sample Public Access Questions
Are you aware that Florida has the strongest constitutional
guarantee of public access in the country? Article I, section
24, of the Florida Constitution grants us the right to access the
records of all three branches of state government. It also
stipulates that all meetings "of any collegial body" of the
executive branch of state government or local government
where public business is to be discussed or transacted must be
open and noticed to the public. Nine out of 10 voters in the
1992 General Election voted in favor of the constitutional
amendment creating this right of access.
What are your views on the public's right to oversee its
government through access to government records and
meetings? What would you do, if elected, to strengthen and
support this right?
During the last legislative session, bills were filed that
would have created over 30 new exemptions to the Public
Records and Open Meetings Laws.
Are there any records and/or meetings currently open to the
public that you would like to see closed? Conversely, are there
any records and/or meetings currently closed that you would
like to see opened? Under Florida law, all records and
meetings are presumed open unless there is a specific
statutory exemption, and only the Legislature can
create new exemptions to the Public Records Law, ch.
119, F.S., and the Open Meetings Law, s. 286.011,F.S.
Currently, there are over 750 exemptions to both laws.
In the past ten years, one of the biggest issues
regarding public records has revolved around fees, and
whether government should profit from the provision
of public records. What are your views on the fee
issue-should government be allowed to sell public records, or
should it be limited to recovering only the actual cost of
disseminating public records?
Some people argue that public records are an asset that
government should be allowed to exploit through higher fees
for public access, particularly if a requester is going to use
those records for a commercial purpose. Others believe that the
dissemination of public records is a public good, and that
because government collects and uses the public records as part
of its daily business, there is no justification for charging
anything more that the actual cost of duplication.
What are your views on electronic access to public records,
including a public agency's e-mail? Do you think that the public
should pay for this alternative record-keeping method, or
should on-line access be freely available to anyone with access
to a computer and modem? Do you think it's possible to
provide on-line access to public records while respecting an
individual's right to privacy?
The benefits from this exercise are twofold: (1) Each
candidate will be on the record, and can be held accountable for
future actions; and (2) in soliciting such information from
political candidates, we not only get them on the record, we
also are able to provide them with some sensitivity training and
education on public access issues.
Barbara A. Petersen is the executive director of the First
Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee.