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Chiefland City Manager Grady Hartzog Sr. said on Feb. 6 that he might have misspoken on Jan. 28 when he said there was not a violation of the Sunshine Law.
On Jan. 15, Chiefland Mayor Teal Pomeroy and Vice Mayor Teresa Barron were in the same room and there was discussion about a regional water supply for Chiefland, Fanning Springs and Trenton.
The Florida Constitution safeguards every person's right to access of government meetings and records.
This protection of rights is through the Government-In-The-Sunshine Law. This law gives the public a right to see the processes leading to their elected leaders voting as they do.
In this regard, whether it is a formal or casual meeting of two or more members of the same board or commission and there is discussion of some matter on which foreseeable action will be taken by that board, the public has a right to know about the meeting before it happens, according to Sandi Copes, press secretary in the Office of Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. The law requires notice of the meeting and it requires minutes to be kept.
Four Chiefland City Commission members voted on Jan. 28 to table the acceptance of a $132,000 loan agreement from Perkins State Bank, which that commission had previously agreed to accept. Pomeroy and Barron are on the commission. That money would have bought 33 acres from the Suwannee River Water Management District for a well field.
City commissioner previously voted 5-0 to buy the SRWMD land, although the vote was 4-1 in favor of the Perkins State Bank loan. Pomeroy said he preferred the Drummond Community Bank bid for the loan.
Pomeroy met with Chiefland City Manager Grady Hartzog Sr., Fanning Springs City Councilman Whitney "Stoney" Smith, Trenton City Manager Jered Ottenwess, and SRWMD staff member Steve Dinges on Jan. 15.
Barron was in the "audience" for that Jan. 15 meeting, but she did not say anything. She did hear the discussion that no other member of the general public had been notified to hear.
There was no notice to the public that the meeting would occur. There was no agenda for the meeting. There were no minutes kept of the meeting. There was no tape recording of the meeting. Hartzog On Jan. 28 had said this was not a meeting that is governed by Florida's Public Meetings Law (Sunshine Law). He conceded on Thursday that he could find no exemption to this meeting from being required to be "in the sunshine."
At the Jan. 28 meeting, Barron said she works with Kelby Andrews, who is a member of the SRWMD Board of Directors, and Andrews told Barron about the meeting a couple of days before it happened.
Hartzog said he does not think this type of thing will happen again. He said city commissioners must recognize that when another member of the same commission walks into an unadvertised meeting of department heads, for instance, he or she must table the meeting or ask the other person to leave.
Hartzog said he does not believe any of the participants or Barron intended for the Jan. 15 meeting to be out of the public view, even though it was not advertised and no minutes of the meeting were kept.