From the Legal Hotline (877-NEWS-LAW)

Collective bargaining and the Sunshine Law and more in today’s Legal Hotline recap.

Q. Our county school board entered into contract negotiations with the local union this week. Both entities have fallen into a habit of failing to notify anyone of their collective bargaining sessions. I want to preempt that problem this year. I seem to recall school boards have different laws to follow in some cases. What are the citations I need? I plan on constructing an email reminder for all parties.

A. Section 447.605(1) (collective bargaining exemption) says that when a public employer (school board) meets w/its own side, the meetings are exempt from the requirements of s. 286.011. This collective bargaining exemption is extremely broad in that notice is not required of the closed session and minutes aren’t required either. (And if taken, are exempt from disclosure.) Further, all work product developed by the public employer in preparation for and during negotiations is confidential.

On the other hand, any negotiations between the public employer (school board) and the union are subject to the Sunshine Law. 447.605(2).

Q. Looks like what I need to cite to get them to realize the collective bargaining sessions between both “sides” are open to the public is 447.605(2). Did I write that correctly?

A. Yes, exactly–subsection (2) of section 447.605 says negotiations between the school board CEO (or his or her rep.) and the “bargaining agent” (agent for the employee organization representing the employees in collective bargaining—e.g., the union) “shall be in compliance with the provisions of s. 286.011 [Sunshine Law].”

Q. Another follow-up to the above. What about notice? That is, we are concerned about being aware of those sessions which are clearly open — both sides holding talks together —neither side gives any notice. They behave as if they can meet in secret. We need to remind them of the law.

A. A vital element of the Sunshine Law is the requirement that boards subject to the law provide “reasonable notice” of all meetings. The Sunshine Law does not define the term “reasonable notice.” While the type of notice is variable and depends upon the facts, at a minimum, an agency must give notice at such time and in such a manner as to enable the media and the general public to attend the meeting.

While the Attorney General’s Office cannot specify the type of notice which must be given in all cases, the following notice guidelines are suggested:

1. The notice should contain the time and place of the meeting and, if available, an agenda, or if no agenda is available, a statement of the general subject matter to be considered.
2. The notice should be prominently displayed in the area in the agency’s offices set aside for that purpose, e.g., for cities, in city hall, and on the agency’s website, if there is one.
3. Except in the case of emergency or special meetings, notice should be provided at least 7 days prior to the meeting. Emergency sessions should be afforded the most appropriate and effective notice under the circumstances.
4. Special meetings should have no less than 24 and preferably at least 72 hours reasonable notice to the public.
5. The use of press releases, faxes, e-mails, and/or phone calls to the local news media is highly effective in providing notice of upcoming meetings.

Finally, note that a knowing violation of the SL is a misdemeanor and fines can be imposed, as well as attorney’s fees and the action can be voided.

Q. I am a journalist colleague from Germany, employed by Europe‘s biggest car newspaper. I tried to obtain accreditation for the swamp buggy race organizers here in Germany in November as we were planning a big article about this beautiful event in our printed issue. It took me months to get in touch with the organizers. At the end they offered me a photo license for $ 5,000 (negotiable)!!! No media company in Germany would pay such an amount for a single journalistic report in a newspaper. I guess it is the same in the US.

A.You might be interested to know that “swamp buggy” races are an Everglades tradition here in Florida dating back to 1949. Here is the transcript from an interview with various participants at an event held in Naples:

As for the license fee imposed by the race organizers in Germany, they are—as would be the case in the U.S.—likely free to do this since it appears to be a private event on private property. However, in doing so, they seem to be “shooting themselves in the foot” by foregoing very good PR. Maybe later they will realize the lost opportunity and invite you in to cover the race.

In the meantime, here is an article from IPS by Len Rapoport that offers tips on trying to gain access to private events like this. Maybe it will help in some way. Probably the swamp buggy organizers should be reminded of the value of a free press. If you have any further questions just write to me.