Recordings of County Commission Meeting Center of Lawsuit
It is said that the devil is in the details,well it may be in the fine print of the law when it comes to the law suit lodged against the county of Alachua over Springhills. Last Thursday the Pennsylvania developer of the commercial complex filed the suit stating that county commissioners weren't meeting openly-- and that's against Florida law.
The audio recording provided by the county from one of the five meetings in question highlights the ambiguities in the law. The developer's lawsuit claims that county commissioners seem to have decided against Springhills as early as april 17th.
According to a tape from the April 17 meeting what commissioners said is highlighted in the lawsuit, "What i'm kind of hearing is that -- ...//bye-bye! (laughing) // can you sing that?"
This was scheduled as an informal county commission meeting at which the commissioners discussed local issues, and Springhills was the main topic of discussion.
Mark Sexton, Alachua County Commission Spokesperson, "The commission has chosen to get together on off tuesdays at 10 in the morning so that they can speak to each other just to talk to each other about items that are important."
But the developer, PREIT, says that the meeting was a violation of sunshine laws --and that the hour and forty-five minute meeting ultimately helped shape the commission's decisions over whether to pass the developer's request to expand the Springhills project.
But the recording suggests otherwise, " Ithink we need to have clarified what can be said about the planning amendment before we talk about them." And the county says there was no violation.
According to Florida law for a meeting to comply with sunshine standards the meeting must be open to the public, minutes taken and adequate notice given of the meeting. And Sexton says, "This meeting was advertised."
The county provided TV20 a copy of the published notice. But the suit suggests that there wasn't sufficient notice given to the public that Springhills was on the agenda, and are calling for the county's decision to be invalidated.
The county attorney, Dave Wagner, responded at today's meeting explaining the county's stance, "We will defend that vigorously."
And commissioners agree. Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut had the final word on the matter at today's meeting, "We need to wait and give PREIT their opportunity and the county their opportunity in court and let the judge make a decision."
Technically, just because an item isn't on the agenda doesn't signify a violation of the sunshine law. However, the spirit of the law may still be violated. If commissioners feel there may have been a violation of the sunshine laws, they could hold a "cure" meeting to properly make their decision. Otherwise, a court might overturn their decision.
By Stacey Samuel, WCJB TV20 News
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