Thursday, September 3, 2015

A key distinction in Sunshine

Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Letter to the editor 
Published: Tuesday, September 1, 2015 at 1:00 a.m.
Sunshine and listening

I read with interest the guest column last week by Sarasota City Commissioner Susan Chapman. After serving in the Legislature for 12 years I came to the conclusion that one of the greatest things we ever did was pass a strong Sunshine Law. However, I hate to see it twisted by the courts in such a way as to prevent elected officials from listening to the citizens for fear of being sued.

I believe that when the Sunshine Law was drafted and passed, no one ever thought that two elected officials could not be together to listen to the very people who elected them. The Sunshine Law was and is there to ensure that the elected officials do not do act [act] behind the public’s back.

Our elected officials should in fact be encouraged to meet with and listen to their constituents. Are the citizens who have pleaded for attention or help required to have multiple community meetings so they can tell their story? I don’t know about you but I admire those elected officials who take time to listen.

I believe the meeting that Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Chapman attended was not a Sunshine violation. The meeting was never intended to make decisions. The meeting was arranged so that the commissioners could listen to issues that could not be explained or voiced in a time-constrained City Commission meeting.

I would hope that our courts would wake up and realize that when elected officials are meeting with the public to listen, either by themselves or for that matter multiple other commissioners, they are providing public service, and that is their job.

Mike Bennett
Manatee County Supervisor of Elections
and former state senator

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