Northeast Florida Regional Council............Exempt from Florida Sunshine Law?

Does anyone know enough about the Sunshine Law to understand why these meetings are exempt from the Sunshine Law requirement of open meetings?  They are using 286 which is the Sunshine Law but have not stated what exemption they fall under that allows them to have closed meeting. 


Northeast Florida Regional Council

July 07, 2011
10:00 a.m.

6850 Belfort Oaks Place, Jacksonville FL

(904) 279-0880

A copy of the agenda may be obtained by contacting the Northeast Florida Regional Council, 6850 Belfort Oaks Place, Jacksonville, Florida, 32216. Notice is also given that two or more members of the Boards of County Commissioners, City/Town Councils/Commissions and other entities covered under Chapter 286, Florida Statutes, may attend and speak at the meeting.



2. What is the Sunshine Law?
The Sunshine Law is outlined in Chapter 286 of the Florida Statutes. It established a basic right of access to most meetings of boards, commissions and other governing bodies of state and local governmental agencies. Prior to 1990, there was a question as to whether the Sunshine Law covered the state Legislature, but in that year, the voters passed a constitutional amendment providing for open meetings in the Legislative branch of the state government. In 1992, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved the Public Records and Meetings constitutional amendment. This amendment constitutionalized the right of access to government information and specifically includes the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.
Chapter 286 of the Florida Statutes
3. What changed after the Constitutional Amendment in 1992 was approved?
In 1992, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that allowed citizens improved access to government records. The constitutional amendment, Article 1, Section 24, specifically includes agencies of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government and makes it more difficult for legislators to add exemptions to the law. Under the amendment, the legislative branch is authorized to adopt rules governing legislative records. The amendment requires the judicial branch to draft new rules providing access to administrative records. In addition, the constitutional amendment provides that exemptions may be enacted only if the Legislature can prove that a public necessity exists justifying the exemption. New exemptions must be no broader than necessary to accomplish the stated purpose of the law. In November 2002, 75 percent of the voters supported Amendment IV, which amended Florida’s constitutional Government in the Sunshine Amendment. Now, two-thirds of state senators and representatives, rather than just a majority, must vote to approve new exemptions to Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

4. How does the Sunshine Law work?
The Sunshine Law, Chapter 286 of the Florida Statutes, requires that government decision-making take place in public. The Sunshine Law prohibits elected officials from meeting behind closed doors to decide matters that affect the citizens they represent in the absence of a specific exemption approved by the Legislature. The basic requirements of the law are that meetings of any public decision-making body must be open to the public, reasonable notice of such meetings must be given and minutes of the meeting must be taken.
Florida Online Sunshine, the official Internet site of the Florida Legislature

5. Who does the Sunshine Law apply to?
The Sunshine Law applies not only to the obvious meetings of elected bodies, but also to appointed and advisory boards. Florida courts have stated that the entire decision-making process is subject to the Sunshine Law, and not just at official meetings to vote on final decisions or actions. The statute extends to discussions and deliberations as well as to formal action taken by a public body. Therefore, the law applies to any gathering where two or more members of a public board or commission discuss some matter on which foreseeable action will be taken by that board or commission. Public agencies may not circumvent the Sunshine Law by using an alter ego to conduct public business in secret. Anyone who carries messages about public business from one public official to another in an attempt to resolve an issue outside of the Sunshine violates the law. In addition, boards subject to the Sunshine Law must provide reasonable notice of all meetings.

6. Which government bodies does the Sunshine Law cover?
The Sunshine Law applies to most state, county and municipal governmental bodies. Florida courts have ruled this includes all public boards, commissions and regional agencies under the “dominion and control” of the state Legislature, whether they are elected or appointed. The Sunshine Law applies to members-elect of boards or commissions as well. The law applies to private bodies as well, if governmental decision-making duties have been delegated to it by a body otherwise covered by the Sunshine Law. Government may not avoid the law by simply delegating its decision-making authority to another entity. When decision-making authority is delegated to staff members, staff members also become subject to the Sunshine Law when discussing these matters. The Sunshine Law does not ordinarily apply to administrative proceedings or meetings of government staff when the function of staff members is to inform and advise the decision-making body. The law allows public bodies to meet with their attorneys in closed meetings to discuss pending litigation. The law provides specific conditions for these meetings. Courts have ruled that it is the types of action performed by the board or committee, and not its makeup that determines whether an advisory committee is subject to the law. For a list of state and local governmental bodies covered by the Sunshine law, see A Citizen’s Guide, page 6.

CASE IN POINT: In 2002, a Florida court found that a city did not violate the Florida Sunshine Law when it met with its attorneys behind closed doors to discuss settlement negotiations and strategy in connection with a lawsuit. Bruckner v. City of Dania Beach, CASE NO. 4D01-1749, COURT OF APPEAL OF FLORIDA, FOURTH DISTRICT, 823 So. 2d 167; 2002 Fla. App.

7. What types of advisory committees have the Florida courts found to be subject to the Sunshine Law?
The following are some of the advisory committees that the Florida courts have found subject to the Sunshine Law. See A Citizen’s Guide, page 7, for more information.
• Community advisory committees
• Architectural review committees of a homeowner’s association
• A public hospital advisory board
• A criminal justice commission created by county ordinance to make recommendations about criminal justice issues
• A municipal planning commission
• A committee appointed by a mayor to recommend legislation
• An ad hoc committee appointed to investigate charges against a local police chief

8. Which committees are exempt from the Sunshine Law?
Advisory committees that are established solely for the purpose of fact-finding and reporting to public bodies are exempt from the Sunshine Law. The Sunshine Law does not apply to federal agencies within the state. In 1976, however, Congress passed the federal Sunshine Act, which requires about 60 federal agencies to meet in public. The Act generally applies to agencies subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

CASE IN POINT: In 2002 a Florida court found that employment interviews conducted by an advisory team of school principal candidates were not governed by the Florida Sunshine Law because the interview team simply had a fact-finding or advisory role.Knox v. Dist. Sch. Bd., CASE NO. 5D01-2384, COURT OF APPEAL OF FLORIDA, FIFTH DISTRICT, 821 So. 2d 311; 2002 Fla. App.

11. What activities are covered by the Sunshine Law?
The Sunshine Law covers “meetings” of public boards and commissions. That includes deliberations, discussions and workshops, as well as formal actions. Florida courts have ruled that whenever two or more members of a governmental body discuss matters on which foreseeable action could be taken by the body, that “meeting” is subject to the Sunshine Law. This would apply even if two members of a commission were having a casual dinner, and public business came up in the course of the conversation. Examples of activities covered by the law are listed in A Citizen’s Guide, page 9.

12. Are there exemptions to the Sunshine Law?
The Legislature has enacted more than 200 exemptions to the Sunshine Law, passing new exemptions almost every yet. Exemptions are listed in the Government-in-the-Sunshine Amendment, Section 24. Also see A Citizen’s Guide, page 10.

13. Are private organizations covered by the Sunshine Law?
The Sunshine Law does not usually cover private organizations, but there are exceptions. If a governmental body delegates its functions to a private organization, its actions regarding the delegated duties are subject the Sunshine Law. Private organizations that play an integral part in a public body’s decision-making process by acting in an advisory capacity must comply with the Sunshine Law.

14. Is a private organization that receives public funds subject to the requirements of the Sunshine Law?
Public funding alone does not bring the private body under the requirements of the Sunshine Law. For example, a private hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funds would not be subject to the Sunshine Law for that reason alone, but one governed by a legislatively created body would be. A private corporation that is paid to perform services for a public agency but is not delegated any governmental or legislative duties, would similarly not be subject to the Sunshine Law.

CASE IN POINT: In 1997, the Florida Supreme Court found that a Volusia County hospital was subject to the Public Records Law even though it was under a lease agreement with a local agency. News-Journal Corp. v. Memorial Hospital-West Volusia, CASE NO. 96-2608, COURT OF APPEAL OF FLORIDA, FIFTH DISTRICT, 695 So. 2d 418; 1997 Fla. App.

15. Who is responsible for attorney’s fees when there is a lawsuit over the Sunshine Law?
The Sunshine Law provides for recovery of attorney’s fees from governmental bodies if a court finds a violation. The law also permits a governmental body to recover attorney’s fees from an individual if a court rules a suit was frivolous or filed in bad faith.
Attorney's Fees Database, an index of cases in which attorney’s fees were awarded in FOI disputes in the state of Florida since 1981.

Above taken from The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information

2010 Florida Code
286.0113 General exemptions from public meetings.

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Comment by Patricia M. McBride on July 1, 2011 at 7:06am
Well, another thought.  Corrigan is not longer on council.  We could write to Bishop and ask him what's with all the secrecy???
Comment by Patricia M. McBride on July 1, 2011 at 6:51am
CJ, somewhere in the myraid of things we have uncovered, one of us has posted the 2 things that qualify for shade meeting, and this group would not qualify as one of them was union negotiations (and not even all of these) and I will have to look up the second exception.  Based on Sunshine law though there are exceptions but few and they were very carefully thought out ones.  I truly believe this group is violating the sunshine laws and since we can't find out what they do or discuss or what there meetings are for, we have no way of even knowing what it is they do!  Does that sound right to you?  It doesn't to me.  If they are exempt, they should have to explain WHY they are exempt.  This seems to be an on going problem.  We waive, we exempt etc., and as a part of that in most of the state laws comes the requirement to explain the law you are exempting and the REASON you are exempting it!
Comment by CJ on June 30, 2011 at 6:35pm
Pat I cant find any minutes pertaining to this meeting on their site any where. It was not their regular monthly meeting
Comment by CJ on June 30, 2011 at 6:21pm
Amembers representing Duval is Bill Bishop and mike corrigan
Comment by CJ on June 30, 2011 at 4:58pm

Pat look under FS 163 there is probably be something there thats where the below is governed

Kind of long ....

CHAPTER 2010-212 Senate Bill No. 2470An act relating to regional transportation; creating the Northeast Florida Regional Transportation Study Commission; providing for membership and organization; providing for reimbursement of expenses; providing for removal and suspension of commission members; providing for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to staff the commission; providing for funding of the commission;

providing that the costs of staffing and the amount of funding are determined by the board of the JacksonvilleTransportation Authority; providing for committees within the commission; providing for commission meetings;

providing for the commission to make available to the public its meeting minutes, reports, and recommendations and publish its reports and recommendations electronically;

directing the authority to make its Internet site available for suchpurposes;

requiring the commission to submit reports to the Governorand the Legislature;

providing that a county’s membership in the commission and participation of a county’s appointees does not constitute consent of the county to inclusion within the jurisdiction of a regionaltransportation authority; providing for expiration and termination of thecommission; amending s. 8, ch. 2009-89, Laws of Florida;

revising the due date for the Northwest Florida Regional Transportation Planning Organization to complete a study and make recommendations to the Legislature concerning advance-funding the costs of capacity projects in itsmember counties;

providing for funding of the study; providing an effectivedate.WHEREAS, pursuant to House Bill 1213, 2009, the Department ofTransportation directed the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to prepare a report to recommend to the Legislature the framework for a regional transportation authority for the northeast region of the state comprised of Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns Counties,

and WHEREAS, the report was completed and received by the Legislature on February 1, 2010, and WHEREAS, based upon the recommendations of the report, it is necessary and appropriate to create a study commission to continue the workcommenced, NOW, THEREFORE,Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:

(2)(c) A county commission, or the city council in the case of Duval County,may remove or suspend a member appointed by it for cause, including, butnot limited to, failure to attend two or more meetings of the commissionduring any 9-month period.

(3) The staff of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority shall act as staff to the commission and, subject to the appropriation of funding by the board of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and such other funds as the commission may receive, shall supply such information, assistance, andfacilities as are deemed necessary for the commission to carry out its dutiesunder this act.

(4) The commission shall have such committees with such membership,duties, and other matters as the chair shall determine. Members of suchcommittees need not be members of the commission and may include personsfrom airport authorities, port authorities, rail or other transportationindustries, and others. All committees shall report to the commission ateach commission meeting and shall present their final reports for consideration by the commission in accordance with the direction of the chair.

(5)(a) The commission shall meet at the times and locations as the chairshall determine. There shall be regular monthly meetings, to the extentreasonably convenient, that are held in one or more central locations;however, at least one meeting must be held in each of the countiesthroughout the region. Each meeting must include provision for publiccomments.(b) The commission shall make available to the public its meetingminutes, reports, and recommendations upon request and, to the extentfeasible, shall publish its reports and recommendations electronically. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority shall make its Internet web site available to the commission for such purposes.

(6) By December 31, 2012, the commission shall prepare and submit tothe Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House ofRepresentatives a report detailing its findings and making specific legislative recommendations, including a regional transportation elements plan,the defining characteristics of transportation elements of regional significance, and an implementation plan for undertaking a regional transportation elements plan, and which may include the establishment of the regionaltransportation authority, draft legislation consistent with this section, andany other recommendations it deems appropriate.

(7) A county’s membership in the commission, and the participation of acounty’s appointees in the work of the commission, is not intended toconstitute the consent of the county to inclusion within the jurisdiction of aregional transportation authority.

(8) This section shall expire and the commission shall terminate upondelivery of the final report required in subsection (6).Section 2. Subsection (1) of section 8 of chapter 2009-89, Laws of Florida,is amended to read:Section 8. (1) The Northwest Florida Regional Transportation PlanningOrganization, an interlocal agency under part I of chapter 163, FloridaStatutes, is authorized to study the feasibility of advance-funding the costs ofcapacity projects in its member counties and making recommendations to theCh. 2010-212 LAWS OF FLORIDA Ch. 2010-2123Legislature by February 1, 2011. The Department of Transportationmay assist the organization in conducting the study. The study shall befunded by the Northwest Florida Regional Transportation Planning Organization from its existing resources and by such other funds that may beprovided from its constituent counties.Section 3. This act shall take effect July 1, 2010.Approved by the Governor June 4, 2010.Filed in Office Secretary of State June 4, 2010

Comment by CJ on June 30, 2011 at 4:42pm

Pat there is such a thing as "shade meetings" but I dont think what they discuss would fall under that but I dont know what they really do.

Im not jumping to conclusions but my gut says first thing it may have something to do with the RTA.

Comment by Patricia M. McBride on June 30, 2011 at 4:05pm
James, thank you so much fo the explanation.  I clearly do not understand how they get to have closed meetings at all!  I wonder if someone should ask them how they think they can have closed meetings?  I looked at their site and it looks like another organization like the JEDC.  Maybe not, but that what I thought when I looked at the site. 
Comment by James A Robinson on June 29, 2011 at 8:45pm
They are the NE region of "Florida Regional Planning Council" (RPCs). In Georgia they call the RDCs "Regional Development Councils". They are aligned under NADO National Association of Development
Organizations" of UNDP "UN Development Program." They are part of Agenda 21. Anybody care to picket their meeting?

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