Are Public Officials Texting City Business During Meetings?

In the City of West Palm Beach’s Nov 1, 2010 CRA Meeting, the moment John Textor and his Digital Domain were given the green light to put the screws to the city, Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell’s cell phone lit up and she began to text as the meeting was still in session. Upon adjournment, all game players congregated on the floor of the chambers and Ms. Mitchell joined the celebration, with her head still down, texting. She more than likely was receiving congratulatory remarks on her success in further sinking the city financially with FSU Digital Domain.

In the city’s April 22, 2013, Commission Meeting, a citizen and former commission candidate, Greg Weiss, expressed concern that while public meetings are going on, commissioners are using text messages and communications are transpiring from outside of the chamber and conversations are being held electronically and he felt It was a violation of our Florida Sunshine Laws. Pat Gleason, Special Counsel For Open Government to Governor Rick Scott said, personal text messages, not related to city business are private however text messages related to city business are public record, even If It’s on a commissioners private cell phone. If one attends a city commission meeting that has an agenda Item which involves developers and Lobbyist, one can clearly see all indication of texting on the dais and even gestures directed at individuals in the audience. These violators are communicating electronically about city business and their communications are off the record and should not be.

When public meetings are in session, all cell phones, especially on the dais should be turned off. Public Officials should not be using cell phones for the duration of the meeting because if city business is being communicated through the device, It’s a violation of the Sunshine Law, as well as unprofessional behavior and a distraction. In the Mayor’s October 8th, Southend Neighborhood Meeting, Commissioner Shanon Materio is using an electronic device, whether cell phone or tablet, throughout most of the meeting and only looks up periodically or when she’s speaking. How much of the meeting is she really absorbing while operating an electronic device? If an elected Official is attending a public meeting, the public is entitled to their full attention. In the very beginning of the Nov 11th CRA Meeting, Commissioner Mitchell is holding her cell phone in hand texting and continues to text as the meeting goes on.

Another huge problem in WPB Public Meetings are inaudible discussions because commissioners fail to turn their microphones on, prior to speaking, resulting in their comments being off the record until the mic is eventually turned on. There is a simple solution to that problem and that is, once meetings are in session, city officials should turn on their mics and leave them on. What is the reason for turning the mic off after speaking? Only one speaker is suppose to be recognized by the mayor to speak at one time and all conversations on the dais should be audible to those in attendance and the viewing audience so there is no need to turn the mics off at all. The context of an individuals statement is lost when one is deprived of part of the communication because of the commissioners constant failure to turn their microphones on, prior to speaking.

Other inaudible communications are private discussions via whispers on the dais and passing notes. In an October commission meeting, Commissioner Materio got up from her seat and walked over to City Administrator, Jeff Green and whispered something in his ear while the public meeting was in session. Mr. Green whispered back and the commissioner walked back to her seat. Chances are, 99.9% that what Commissioner Materio said to Mr. Green was pertaining to city business and they don’t seem to understand, there are no whispers allowed in a public meeting If regarding city business and once the meeting is in session, everything spoken should be regarding city business. Whatever the comment was, to Mr. Green, It should have been over the microphone. Why didn’t  Ms. Materio asked for the floor and directed her comment to Mr. Green over the microphone for the public to hear?

I have watched the different city boards in session, whether the Planning Board, Zoning Board, Downtown Action Committee or Audit Committee Meetings and I have not seen any board members, in any of those meetings, texting or using electronic devices when their meetings were in session. They all appear professional and very engaged in their meetings, from start to finish.

All individuals should have some level of moral compass and especially, elected officials who takes an oath of office, committing to do right by the people they were elected to serve and therefore should refrain from illegal and unprofessional behavior while in their capacity of representing and serving the public.  Please citizens, register to vote If not already, participate in the voting process in all local elections and recruit qualified individuals to run for elected office.