Legal Report, November 2014
General Counsel, Trela J. White
1. City of Brooksville vs. Shirley Miketinac, et al; Case No. 272014CA000921CAAXMX Circuit Court for the 5th Judicial Circuit in and for Hernando County, Florida
Siding with the City of Brooksville, a Hernando County Judge has struck down a referendum petition from a citizen’s group that sought to allow the voters to decide whether to ban the city’s red-light cameras. The measure was designed to amend the city’s charter to prohibit current and future city councils from installing red-light cameras. Circuit Judge Thomas Eineman ruled that the proposition was (a) overly broad; (b) violated the Municipal Home Rule Powers Act; (c) was in conflict with state law that allowed municipalities to create red-light camera traffic enforcement programs; and (d) attempted to amend a state law through a local ballot initiative. The state law allowing red-light camera programs in municipalities also provides that “[I]t is unlawful for any local authority to pass or attempt to enforce any ordinance in conflict with the provisions of this chapter.” §316.002, F.S.
2. James Anderson vs. City of St. Pete Beach et al; Case No. 2D12-5969
Anderson appealed a final judgment entered by Circuit Court Judge David A. Demers (Pinellas County) alleging three (3) errors: (1) finding Section 163.32466, F.S. Constitutional; (2) failing to strike St. Pete Beach’s comprehensive plan amendment for failure to properly publish notice; and (3) failing to find that the city violated the state Sunshine Law by means of a series of seven shade meetings. The 2nd DCA agreed with Anderson on counts two and three and declined to rule on the constitutional issue as the merits were decided on the other two (2) counts. The Appellate Court ruled that St. Pete Beach failed to publish notice as required by law for its proposed amendment to its comprehensive plan. Such failure rendered the amendment null and void. Also the city conducted series of seven (7) shade meetings at which they discussed a plan to amend the city’s comprehensive plan as well as the city charter. The purpose was to formulate a strategy to re-adopt a comp plan amendment that had been judicially invalidated and to insulate the new comp plan from future challenges. The 2nd DCA ruled that shade meetings were limited to pending litigation and not secret strategy sessions for the future. Thus, the Appellate Court ruled that the City violated the Sunshine Law. Section 286.011(8), F.S. creates the exemption to the Sunshine Law which allows municipalities to meet in private, but only under limited conditions as follows:
1. The City’s attorney must advise the city council at a public meeting that advice is desired concerning pending litigation;
2. The discussions must be confined to litigation itself (settlement or strategy related to litigation expenditures);
3. The meeting must be recorded by a Court Reporter noting with specificity the times of commencement and termination of the session, all discussion and proceedings, the names of all persons in attendance (only those allowed by law); and the names of those speaking;
4. Reasonable notice of the time and date of the shade meeting must be given as well as the names of those attending;
5. The session must commence at an open meeting at which the chair must announce the commencement and estimated length of the shade meeting and the names of the persons attending. At the conclusion of the private session, the public portion of the meeting must be re-opened and the chair must announce the termination of the shade meeting; and
6. The transcript becomes public record upon conclusion of the litigation.
Note: This statute is strictly construed.
3. Chmielewski vs. City of St. Pete Beach, 39 Fla. L. Weekly D1815 (Fla. 2nd DCA, September 5, 2014)
Transcripts of a shade meeting became public after the conclusion of the related litigation in accordance with Section 286.011(8), F.S. Afterward the Chmielewskis sought the transcript of the shade meeting for use in a subsequent, different lawsuit against the City. The City refused to release the transcript stating that the 2nd lawsuit was a continuation of the first one. The 2nd DCA found that the transcript became public record upon conclusion of the first litigation and that it could not regain its “secret” status because a new tangentially related suit was filed.
4. Town of Gulf Stream et al vs. Palm Beach County, and Sharon R. Bock, as Clerk and Comptroller of Palm Beach County, Intervenor
Case No. 502011CA017953XXXXMB. Inspector General Funding Lawsuit.
Fourteen municipalities sued Palm Beach County challenging the method of funding for the Inspector General Program (the “OIG Program”). The current funding method authorizes the Board of County Commissioners to set an amount the municipalities must pay for the OIG Program and to bill municipalities for that amount. The municipalities contend that the current funding method is an unlawful tax and invades municipal home rule budgetary authority. A three day non-jury trial regarding this matter commenced Tuesday, August 19, 2014. The parties submitted proposed orders to Judge Brunson on September 2, 2014, and are awaiting a ruling.