Florida Cabinet members have approved a settlement agreement in a case questioning whether members and aides worked outside the sunshine law in the ouster of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement head Gerald Bailey.
Under the agreement the state will pony up about $55,000 to cover legal fees for the plaintiffs—which include more than a dozen Florida news organizations. Daniel Nordby, the lawyer who represented the group says that’s not a bad price.
“The amount here, I think reflects favorably in comparison to some similar litigation including some litigation involving the same plaintiff’s counsel with the city of Venice in which case I think the attorney’s fees awarded were something like $750,000,” Nordby says
The settlement includes a number of stipulations Nordby points out cabinet members have already implemented. They require that all cabinet aide meetings be recorded and posted on the internet, and that Cabinet aides and senior staff get sunshine law training. Nordby says another provision dictates how items can be added to cabinet meeting agendas.
“This provision requires that those requests be in writing to the governor’s office, or be raised in an open meeting of the governor and cabinet,” Nordby says.
Following the meeting, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam reminded reporters while the state agreed to a settlement, there has been no finding of a sunshine law violation.
“And I’m pleased that we came to an agreement. It builds on the reforms that we had already adopted and it strengthens the institution of the cabinet with these new reforms," Putnam says.
And Putnam says he thinks those changes will have lasting effects that will positively impact the cabinet moving forward and will help to increase transparency. Meanwhile, Florida Governor Rick Scott had less to say on the subject noting only that he thinks the settlement is the right thing for Florida.