Just a few months ago, House Bill 843 failed to pass in the Florida Legislature.
That’s unfortunate news for Vice-Chairman Bill Guy and Supervisor Kathleen Flaherty.
Because if had HB843 passed, any two local government officials could have met in a private setting (or in public) to discuss official public business without announcing the meeting a week in advance, nor adhering to the requirement to take meeting minutes, or obey the host of other rules under Florida’s Sunshine Laws.
And that could have made Flaherty’s impromptu discussion with Hampton Park HOA President Jim Brann on August 17 (prior to the official start of the public GSCDD meeting) regarding Gateway’s public money being spent to build an estimated $30,000 fence near Hampton Park (while Guy sat immediately next to Flaherty) potentially acceptable.
On the surface, the discussion didn’t seem to hurt anything – with the possible exception of Bill Guy’s neck as he quickly turned his head to his right once he realized what Flaherty was doing.
Brann pressed Flaherty, asking “Where’s my fence?”
Flaherty told Brann: “I told you, it’s in the budget.”
Flaherty immediately added that the Gateway Services District couldn’t build a metal fence “because of the FBI”. (She meant FPL.)
As the conversation goes on, and with each assurance from Flaherty to Brann that the fence money was “in the budget”, Guy wipes his forehead, adjusts his glasses, covers his face, pretends he’s staring at the computer screen with his mouth covered, looks up at Brann a few times, wipes his forehead again, etc.
At one point Brann shakes Guy’s hand, laughing, and says “I get to harass Bill too don’t I?”
Guy awkwardly responds “Yes.”
To his credit, other than pleasantries, Guy did not engage in the conversation. But he didn’t get up and walk away, either.
Supervisor Ed Tinkle was the only other board member who had arrived for the meeting by that point. It’s clear based on the video, however, that Tinkle was not engaged in the conversation whatsoever. Given the distance between Tinkle and the other board members it seems likely that Tinkle didn’t hear anything and appears as though Tinkle was immersed in documents that were of interest to him at that time.
The video concludes with Flaherty stating that, unlike her, the other Supervisors aren’t nice about getting what they want. And that Flaherty is fine with it when the other board members laugh at her.
It doesn’t seem likely that Guy is laughing at Flaherty’s latest gaffe.
I have to be careful here because I don’t have a law degree.
But I spent a ton of time researching the Sunshine Laws, and laws surrounding expectation of privacy.
Regarding the latter, everything I found quickly suggested that elected officials, in a public meeting room, inches away from clearly visible microphones, with a partial audience present, would have no “reasonable expectation” of privacy. So even though two of our elected politicians and an HOA President had no clue they were being broadcast, I feel like I’m on solid legal ground reporting this.
Also, I want to make it clear that it was the GSCDD’s own equipment that was recording and broadcasting these events. There was no spy, no Gateway Sun bugging equipment, no secret stuff in the room. All of the observed material was broadcast to the public on the Internet by the GSCDD themselves.
But the real questions is, did Flaherty break any laws discussing the use of public funds prior to the public meeting, with another elected official on the same board sitting to her left?
I believe that in order for two or more elected officials to discuss anything in regards to public funds, the public would have to be given 7 days notice in advance of the meeting, and meeting minutes would need to be taken. So by that standard it’s possible that lines were crossed, even though Guy barely participated.
Ultimately I would like to see District Attorney Anthony Pires, who (I presume) does have a law degree, interview both Flaherty and Guy about what was written in this article.
Flaherty will likely respond “I don’t know, I wasn’t there.”
While Guy will confirm that the events occurred.
Then Pires will likely request a copy of the video, and I will decline his request due to the fact that Pires has recently shown he has the ability to base his legal opinions on district politics. (Either that, or he doesn’t understand the legal concept of the term “wilfully”.)
However if anyone from the State of Florida would like a copy of the video, I will turn it over without hesitation.
That said, I am going to wait to see if the GSCDD self-reports this incident to the state for further investigation rather than reporting it myself.
Whether Flaherty only barely skirted the Sunshine Laws, flagrantly violated them, or only came close to violating them, she has to know better than to do these kinds of things.
Stupid decisions and a lack of self control have been a running theme with Flaherty since she joined the board. And this decision to discuss GSCDD business outside of an official public forum with another Supervisor sitting next to her is just the latest boneheaded move she’s made since she was elected.