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Government in the Sunshine: It has nothing to do with Florida

by Joe Panella

In Boca, as in many cities, it is common for anyone with business before the city to meet with elected or appointed officials.  The purpose is to have a positive influence on the outcome of such business. The rules governing these and meetings between council members are called the Florida Sunshine Laws.

The technical term for these meetings are “ex parte”. This means “meetings that occur without all parties to an issue present”.  Just before discussion or debate in public city council meetings, you may hear an official disclose their ex parte meetings. It’s meant to keep everything honest about possible external influences. Ex parte meetings can be face to face, email or telephone.

While this disclosure meets the letter of the law, it falls short of full disclosure to all parties who may be interested in the issue at hand.  What happens at these meetings?  What gets said that cannot be presented in full view of the public at a publicly noticed, city council meeting?  Are promises being made?  Or not?  How would we know?

Why not have the discussions in the public eye, at a properly noticed city council meeting where all interested parties can participate?  For the sake of transparency in local government, Boca Raton could exhibit world class leadership and eliminate private discussions between city councilors, board members and those with business interests before the city. What harm would come by having these discussions in the public eye during regularly scheduled public meetings?

The benefits are obvious.  We’d have a fully informed electorate.  And accountability by our elected officials would never be called into question.

This is, after all, the intent of “Government in the Sunshine”.

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