There are several misconceptions about Florida’s Sunshine Law that I would like to address in this third installment. One of the largest that I believe is slowly getting recognized and understood is the right to participate or comment in meetings falling under the requirements of Chapter 286, Florida Statutes. As I mentioned briefly in my first article on the topic, citizens have absolutely no right to participate in the meetings, at least from a perspective of the Sunshine Law. So what can they do, well they can watch and listen and they can record the meetings. You just cannot be disruptive to the meeting.
A second misconception is that two or more board members, public officials, etc. cannot meet with each other unless there is notice provided to the public, minutes are taken, etc. First of all, there are several exceptions through statutes that may apply. Secondly, although typically the wisest and safest course is not to meet with another board member, public official, etc. outside of properly noticed and conducted meetings, these individuals can still meet to discuss matters falling outside the scope and requirements of the Sunshine Law. Examples may include lunch while only discussing personal matters between friends or discussing a local charity while at a fundraiser (so long as the charity does not have or likely will not have a matter before the board). Remember, it only becomes a problem when the individuals meet in private (or at least without notice, etc.) and discus matters that are being considered or are reasonably expected to be considered by the entity.
Another misconception is that the Sunshine Law applies to homeowners’ and condominium associations. It does not. Although these associations act in a similar capacity as some governmental entities, they are still technically private. They do have their own set of statutes that guide them and these statutes have some similar sections to the Sunshine Law, such as requiring meetings to be open to residents and for meetings to be noticed in advance (with some exceptions).
Yet another misconception is that a quorum is needed. As I mentioned in the second installment of this series, Florida’s Sunshine Law Vol. 2 – Who and what does it cover?, a quorum is not necessary to constitute a meeting. The meeting or get together only has to include two or more board members, public officials, etc.
There are many other misconceptions out there and many exceptions that exist within Florida’s Sunshine Law and Public Records laws. For more information and help with specific questions or situations, please consult an attorney.