Court Affirms: Public Meetings Open to Public but Not for Speaking
Community Maritime Park Associates, Inc. (“CMPA”) is a not-for-profit corporation charged by the City of Pensacola with overseeing the development of a parcel of waterfront property. As an organization that was delegated at least one of the city’s public functions, it was undisputed that the CMPA was subject to the requirements of Florida’s Sunshine law.
While the CMPA permitted members of the public to attend their meetings, it did not provide a public forum for these members of the public to provide input. In November 2008, two citizens of the City of Pensacola filed a lawsuit in the Escambia County Circuit Court requesting that the Court declare the decisions made by the CMPA void and mandate the CMPA to permit citizens to be heard and participate in decision-making at future CMPA meetings.
Pursuant to section 286.011(1), Florida Statutes, “[a]ll meetings of … any agency or authority of any county, … at which official acts are to be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times…”
The citizens in this case asked the Court to construe the phrase “open to the public” to mean that the public had a right to speak at public meetings. The Circuit Court disagreed and ruled that while Florida’s Sunshine law does require that meetings of public agencies be open to the public, it does not give the public a right to speak at these meetings. The First District Court of Appeal recently affirmed the Circuit Court’s decision. Keesler v. Community Maritime Park Associates, Inc., First DCA Case No. 1D09-1659. (Counsel for the citizens in this case have asked the Court for a rehearing. We will keep you updated on future case developments.)
It is appropriate for local public officials to include in their meeting procedures opportunities for members of the public to be heard and to participate in the decision-making process. However, there is no legal requirement for public participation under Florida’s Sunshine law.