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City Opens Old Florida Outdoor Festival Meetings to Public


City Attorney not consulted on initial decision to close meetings

During the January 6th City Council meeting, Commissioner Billie Dean asked City Attorney Cliff Shepard a series of questions about meetings related to the Old Florida Outdoor Festival (OFOF).

“Are the (OFOF) meetings open to the public?” Dean asked. “So the public can’t just sit in if they aren’t invited? They can’t just sit in and listen to what’s going on?”

“They don’t have a right to sit in,” said Shepard. “If the staff were to say ‘come on in’ they could. But they don’t have a right to be there and that’s the difference. In Sunshine (Law) issues, you have a right to be there.”

But a day later, Shepard revised his opinion based on additional information he learned about the OFOF meeting.

He emailed The Apopka Voice this explanation:

"The day after the meeting when the (Orlando) Sentinel was running a follow-up on the concerns raised at the meeting by Mr. Dean, the question was re-asked about the meetings being covered by the Sunshine Law so I decided to ask more questions of city staff as to who was attending the meetings and what the purpose of the meetings was. Through that inquiry I learned that there was more being done than the simple implementation of a council decision, and that certain meetings (example: when deciding what acts to hire) should be public, where others (example: how many officers to use for parking duties) would not be under the Sunshine Law. So the best answer to the question depends on what is being decided, and not just upon whom is making the decision."

It was back on December 29th that city officials denied Dr. Ray Shackelford (a private citizen) access to a Festival planning session, which triggered a series of questions at the January 6th City Council meeting from Commissioner Dean about public access to Festival meetings.

It isn't clear who actually made the determination on closing the meetings to the public, but according to Shepard it wasn't him.

"As to that (December 29th) specific meeting, I only found out about it after it occurred and wasn’t asked about it until the public meeting (City Council Meeting of January 6th). My answer at that time was based on the information I was provided in that moment, so it was essentially an ‘after the fact’ analysis and not a recommendation. The Sunshine Law generally applies to only elected and appointed officials and does not ordinarily apply to staff committees or meetings."

According to Robert Sargent, Public Information Officer for the City, there were agenda items to be discussed that were not for the public to review at the time of the meeting.

He emailed The Apopka Voice this explanation:

"The meeting involved items of negotiation related to the Old Florida Outdoor Festival that were not intended for immediate release to the public. The decision was challenged as the meeting was getting underway. The issue was brought up during the City Council meeting when the attorney was asked about it."

Shepard said city officials would begin to open those meetings to the public, provide notice of them and record minutes.

Dr. Shackelford expressed appreciation with the change.

“I’m very pleased and applaud the City for taking a new direction, and including the public in these meetings,” he said. “My goal is and continues to be that everyone in Apopka can participate in the progress.”

City Attorney, Commissioner Billie Dean, Meeting opened to the public, Old Florida Outdoor Festival


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