Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Resident Sues City over Meeting; He Contends the Chat at a Restaurant Broke the State's Open Meetings Law

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Resident Sues City over Meeting; He Contends the Chat at a Restaurant Broke the State's Open Meetings Law

Article excerpt

Byline: GREGORY RICHARDS

Jacksonville is being sued after five City Council members held a meeting that a resident says violated the state's open meetings law.

The lawsuit details how on May 25, council members Suzanne Jenkins, Lake Ray, Pat Lockett-Felder, Reggie Fullwood and Mia Jones met at an Arlington restaurant that was seeking a zoning exemption to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. That gathering to "discuss" the change was not properly advertised and not adequately disclosed afterward, says the lawsuit by Donald Smitha, a dentist who works across from the restaurant, Arielle's Fine Dining at 7707 Arlington Expressway.

The council subsequently approved the variance over the objections of Smitha and others, who said doing so would result in unwanted trash, crime and traffic congestion in their neighborhood.

Smitha is seeking to have the council action overturned and have the matter considered again.

City Hall attorney Tracey Arpen said the city doesn't believe a violation occurred.

Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law requires meetings held to talk about topics that will likely come up for a vote to be open to the public with reasonable notice and to be recorded in meeting minutes.

The May 25 meeting -- which included tours of the facility with its owner and dinner that the members paid for themselves -- did not meet those requirements, according to the lawsuit.

Ray, who called the gathering, said in an interview that the get-together was mainly an inspection trip, despite the meeting notice saying the visit was for "discussing" the appeal. After touring the restaurant, he said, the members talked about each others' families and about running for the state Legislature.

Yet there also was a discussion about the restaurant's closing time, he said, with him saying it should be 11 p.m. and Lockett-Felder pushing for 2 a. …

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