Frank LoMonte Comments on Including Voicemail Messages During Public Meetings
Frank LoMonte, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Brechner Center for Freedom of Information director, is quoted in “The Public Has a Right to Weigh in at Government Meetings. Does Playing Voicemails All Night Cut It?” published on South Florida public radio station WLRN-FM’s website.
The story focuses on a Miami-Dade County School Board decision to allow nearly 800 voicemails about reopening schools closed due to the pandemic to be streamed during a public meeting. The epic 29-hour event has sparked questions as to whether this decision may have violated state laws guaranteeing public access to government proceedings.
“There’s definitely some belief that the virtual meeting is with us for good and if that’s the case, then the Legislature really does have to contemplate: Is this going to be something that we need to enact different rules for?” said LoMonte. “The Florida Legislature went back in 2013 and amended the Sunshine Law specifically to say that there is a requirement to provide a reasonable opportunity to be heard.”
Several opinions from the Florida Attorney General’s office state that the Sunshine Law guarantees the public a “meaningful” opportunity to participate.
“Meaningful at least suggests that people listen to you,” LoMonte said. “And if you’re playing [the comments] consecutively over multiple hours, when your audience — you know, for a fact — must be asleep, then that doesn’t seem like a meaningful opportunity.”
According to LoMonte, the executive order does not dispense with the requirement to have a quorum and he does not think that the argument would fly in court.
“This meeting is potentially vulnerable to challenge, because it wasn’t really one consecutive continuous meeting. It was, in fact, two different meetings, and the law would generally require two separate public notices,” LoMonte said.