Monday, April 26, 2004

Sunshine Violation - Apparent or Ad Hoc Advisory Group

All of us who deal with (or represent) government groups should read this case in which the 4th DCA found that a "pre-termination conference" conducted by the department head (as delegated from the County Administrator) with EOC and HR representatives was covered by Sunshine Law requirements.

Essentially, the fact that they met as a group and deliberated about the issue was enough to make it a body for Sunshine purposes, even though the department head retained the decision making authority and no county policy designated the "board" as a decision making group. The very convening of a group around the policy decision to terminate opened it to Sunshine.

This opinion will be big grist for the "development review committee" mill - LOTS of local governments use these informal meetings of department representatives to review and discuss proposals, and lots of them still try to find ways to keep them closed (ordinance grant all the authority to the County/City Administrator, or provisions that the committee doesn't vote, or requiring general meetings "with staff" and having it a "group meeting" at the convenience of the applicant). This opinion should drive home that if the DRC meets, and if it talks at all about the substantive decisions, actions taken subsequent will be subject to challenge if the meetings aren't open.

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