Sunshine Law Confusion
I attended a forum for candidates for Gulfport City Council on Jan. 16. Several incumbent candidates attended the forum and one candidate indicated that the incumbents couldn’t state their positions on items that could come before the city council due to the Florida “Sunshine” laws. This is not correct. The Florida Attorney General publishes a “Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual” annually (myfloridalegal.com/sun.nsf/sunmanual). The manual (2022 edition) part 1.C.3, Community forums sponsored by private organizations, states,
“A ‘Candidates’ Night’ sponsored by a private organization at which candidates for public office, including several incumbent city council members, will speak about their political philosophies, trends and issues facing the city, is not subject to the Sunshine Law unless the council members discuss issues coming before the council among themselves.”
So, per the attorney general, the Sunshine Law only applies if the councilmembers meet among themselves. It does not apply to candidates speaking in public. I hope the incumbent city councilmembers will feel free to be more forthcoming with their positions in the upcoming public forum now that they know the Sunshine Law does not apply. – Bill Ackerman, Gulfport
The Gabber reached out to Gulfport City Attorney Andy Salzman and here’s what he told us: The quote from the manual is, indeed correct. He added that incumbents can give opinions or philosophies as long as they don’t say how they would vote. Salzman gave the example that an incumbent could say they believed the city should look into the viabilty of using the sheriff for police dispatch, but could not say, “I would (or would not) vote to get rid of dispatch.”
As there was another councilmember present at the aformentioned meeting – the Ward I and Ward IV representatives – any incumbent present could have violated open government laws by discussing their position, Salzman said, adding “that’s what we try to avoid.”
RV Changes in Gulfport
Wow! With a change to ease the RV parking restrictions in neighborhoods, Gulfport wants to be an upscale Pinellas Park? Just because an RV as long as a semi costs $200,000 doesn’t mean it is entitled to sit outside my living room window because now my neighbors can park it alongside their driveway. Not the neighborhood I want to live in.
Councilman Ray (Ward III) believes “people are taking great responsibility and care of their property”? Councilman Ray needs to drive around Gulfport more. Maybe some are, but there are a lot who aren’t — and there’d be a lot more if we relaxed other codes. Besides, we have enough code enforcement issues already in Gulfport without unsightly RVs scattered in the front yards of homes.
Contrary to Councilman Ray’s “research,” all the towns I’ve lived in require boats, RVs, trailers, etc. to be behind the front lines of homes. – Mike Cook, Gulfport