An Osceola County, Florida, judge ruled Nov. 22, 2021, that the county violated the state’s Sunshine Law by holding Executive Policy Group meetings without public notice or opportunity for the public to attend.
County resident Josh Meyers for 613 days challenged the county’s assertion that the Sunshine Law did not apply to the Executive Policy Group. With assistance from the Florida First Amendment Foundation and the NFOIC-administered Knight FOI Litigation Fund, Meyers sued.
“The EPG was authorized to enact legally binding executive orders, which were enforceable and had the effect of law,” Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Egan wrote. “This, by its very nature, is a decision-making act. Even though authority was given during a state of emergency, this delegated power did not excuse the EPG from comporting with the requirements outlined in the Sunshine Law.”
Receiving a grant from the Knight FOI Litigation Fund was “awesome,” Meyers said, “because we could go after several more depositions than we would have been able to pursue without.”
The county has one month to appeal the ruling.
“We’ll see where it goes,” Meyers said. “I hope this ruling keeps the county honest.”
Press release from Josh Meyers
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SAINT CLOUD, FL (November 22, 2021) – Osceola County resident Josh Meyers for 613 days has fought Osceola County on whether or not Sunshine applied to the Executive Policy Group even after Osceola County re-organized and took away decision making authority in October 2021.
Today, an Osceola County Circuit Court judge has ruled that Osceola County did in fact violate the Sunshine Law by holding the Executive Policy Group meetings without public notice or opportunity for public to attend and that 252.38(3)(a)(5, Florida Statutes does not pertain to the Sunshine as the Sunshine Law contains only a narrow exception for conducting meetings in the shade, which is when a public entity meets with legal counsel to discuss pending litigation.
In addition to the declaration that Osceola County violated Sunshine during the COVID-19 pandemic, the court went on to issue a Permanent Injunction that residents have a clear legal right to have notice of the meeting, attend the meeting and also have a record of the meetings consistent with the spirit of the Sunshine Law. With this permanent injunction, Osceola County is enjoined from holding any meetings of decision making bodies, such as the EPG as it existed prior to October 2021 without proper notice and public access.
Thank you goes out to the attorneys at McCland Law P.A., Weber, Crabb and Wein, P.A., the National Freedom of Information Coalition and the Florida First Amendment Foundation.
“Today is a huge victory for the citizens of Osceola County and hopefully it will put Osceola County leadership on notice that we will not stand by and let them violate our rights”, Josh Meyers said.