Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shorstein Scolds Council on Meetings; State Attorney Will Recommend Grand Jury Proceed with an Investigation of Open Meeting Practices

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shorstein Scolds Council on Meetings; State Attorney Will Recommend Grand Jury Proceed with an Investigation of Open Meeting Practices

Article excerpt

Byline: BETH KORMANIK

State Attorney Harry Shorstein blasted the Jacksonville City Council at its meeting Tuesday for "a culture of blatant disregard" of open meeting laws and said he would recommend that a grand jury investigate its practices.

The region's top prosecutor made the unusual move of addressing the council after a Times-Union investigation this month uncovered a deeply flawed system of public notification, dozens of meetings about public business held without public notice or written minutes and several meetings in private places, a violation of the city's ethics code.

Shorstein already has presented the issue to the grand jury, but it has not yet acted. Tuesday was the first time Shorstein indicated his preference for the investigation and said the grand jury should make a decision when it meets next month.

"There clearly appears to have been a way that business has been conducted that is wrong," Shorstein said.

He also criticized the city General Counsel's Office for not being more vigilant in ensuring the law was followed.

Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law requires that meetings between two or more members of a public board or commission have advance notice, be open to the public and have a written account of what happened.

Shorstein quoted a Times-Union story in which council President Michael Corrigan said the city's lawyers told him that the council's actions "could be suspect."

"That appears to be a monumental understatement," said Shorstein, a former city general counsel himself.

Corrigan said after the meeting, "It is inappropriate to respond at this time. We will, of course, cooperate with the state attorney."

He declined to answer any questions.

"Shorstein also read from a handful of the "significant number" of letters his office received urging an investigation of the council. "My perception is that flagrant violations are a matter of course," one said.

Shorstein also acknowledged that the letters asking for an investigation amounted to "criticisms of my office for not taking stronger action."

After his presentation, the veteran prosecutor asked if the council had any questions. …

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