Ah, politics - and politicians. They invariably run on a platform of service to the public and then, all too often, almost immediately propose or support legislation that is nothing short of a disservice to those who elected them.
A couple of cases in point:
Among the Florida Sunshine Law "exemption" and "exception" proposals perking this legislative session are a couple of particularly bad ones for the public's right to know.
One is sponsored by a member of Southwest Florida's regional delegation, Rep. Byron Donalds of Naples.
The Republican freshman who represents District 80 in the Florida House, has proposed a bill he says will "improve the efficiency of local governing boards."
If passed, what House Bill 843 would actually do is gut the very heart of the state's very stringent public meeting laws by allowing any two members of various elected boards to converse on "public business" behind closed doors.
Without providing notice of such meetings, a long-standing statutory requirement.
Without recording such meetings, a current standard practice.
Without making any written exchanges from such meetings public record, another long-standing statutory mandate.
Without, well, much at all in the way of any notification or transparency requirements.
It seems the public is intended to take elected officials - who would be able to hold any number of one-on-one discussions out of the Sunshine - on faith that they did not talk about the scant handful of prohibited subjects such as appropriations, contracts or any direct expenditure of funds.
Apparently we've been around the political block a lot more times than District 80's wide-eyed newbie rep. We say pashaw to both his "efficiency" gambit and his faith in the back-door politics he maintains would allow elected officials to "...better serve the interests of the public which they have been elected or appointed to represent."
Of similar ilk is a bill aimed at the other side of the public meetings/public records Government-in-the-Sunshine statutes.
Another member of the Southwest Florida legislative contingent, Sen. Gary Steube, who represents District 23, has sponsored an innocuously labeled Public Records bill that would chill the public's right to pursue requests for documents denied by the custodians of those records.
The Sarasota Republican has since amended Bill 80, which proposes to give judges the option of not awarding costs, such as reasonable attorney fees, to citizens denied records to which the court agrees they were entitled.
The modified "preponderance of the evidence requirement" to recapture costs incurred would still act as a deterrent to members of the public denied records by deep-pocket agencies that then would have even less incentive to produce them.
What citizen could afford to roll the dice of litigation if there is no guarantee of reimbursement of costs if they prevail?
These proposals benefit the public not at all.
They are, in fact, the exact type of legislation that fosters shadow governance rather than government in the sunshine.
We urge swift rejection of both.
And we urge those elected to represent us to actually do just that - represent the public by protecting our right to know, our right to be part of the decision-making process from start to finish.
Those are the things Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws are intended to protect.
Let the sun shine in. Shadow governance is never good governance, no matter how "efficient" or "more cost-effective" it may be touted to be.
-Island Reporter editorial