This week I'm discussing the interpretation of the Sunshine Law when it comes to chief search committee.
Two members were absent at the Police Chief Committee meeting, one of which teleconferenced into the meeting.
But did the two absent members share their vote prior to the meeting?
The Sunshine Law states: A member of a public body must be present in person in order to be considered present, vote or be counted as part of the quorum. In the absence of statutory authority, public bodies may not meet via electronic or telephonic conferencing.
The number four was given to several of the candidates indicating that at least one member voted absentee when, only three members were physically present. The tape will reflect the vote along with the minutes showing what numbers were given to each candidate. If the absent members participated in the “assignment”, their votes, by law, should be stricken from the record in order for the process to be fair and balanced.
It seemed, according to the city, it was all right for the absent member to just listen in as long as the person did not vote and was not officially a part of the quorum. I did not hear the member vote over the phone, but did he hand in his vote by some other way before the meeting? Since precedence has already been established, would the same teleconferencing call privilege be extended to any City Commissioner being absent and out of town during a commission meeting, if a commissioner would request a teleconferencing call?
Public bodies cannot go into executive session to vote, so I wondered how the committee was going to select the candidates. From what I observed, the committee had some kind of numbering system set up before the meeting and presented their conclusions to be tallied at the meeting called their “assignment”. The public was not able to observe why each committee member gave the choice ranking that they gave to the candidates.
The Sunshine Law states: The Open Meetings Act declares that its provisions shall be liberally construed to require public officials to take official action and conduct all deliberations only in open meetings. Voting by secret ballot contradicts the openness requirement by hiding the decision-making process from the public view. Deliberating
is the act of weighing and examining reasons for and against a choice.
Until next week, no one should care what method is used in the selection process as long as the integrity of the Sunshine Law is preserved.