By Steve Bracci:
In follow-up to yesterday’s post about the School District leaving parents off of its textbook review committees, it would also appear that the closed-door textbook review selection process violates Florida’s Sunshine Law. A committee — such as a textbook review committee — cannot meet privately and “eliminate” or “rank” possible choices, even if they only make a “recommendation.” Even if the school board has the ultimate final decision, the lower committee cannot do this outside of the Sunshine.
Here, the textbook review committees met privately and eliminated textbook choices down to one book per subject. That one choice was then recommended to the School Board on 4/11/2017. The School Board — having only one choice per subject to choose from — voted to adopt the recommendations. A classic “rubber stamp.”
The law is clear, as summarized in a court opinion called “Silver Express.” (click case name for link):
Governmental advisory committees which have offered up structured recommendations such as here involved—at least those recommendations which eliminate opportunities for alternative choices by the final authority, or which rank applications for the final authority—have been determined to be agencies governed by the Sunshine Law. . . . . In Spillis Candela & Partners, Inc. v. Centrust Savings Bank, 535 So.2d 694 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988), we stated:
“The law is quite clear. An ad hoc advisory board, even if its power is limited to making recommendations to a public agency and even if it possesses no authority to bind the agency in any way, is subject to the Sunshine Law. The committee here, made a ruling affecting the decision-making process and it was of significance. As a result, it was improper for the committee to reach its recommendation in private since that constituted a violation of the Sunshine Law.”
This is precisely what happened with these textbook review committees. The met privately, they eliminated textbook choices and publishers, they made a final recommendation or selection, and they submitted it to the school board for final approval.
I believe this is a Sunshine Law violation, and thus the action of the Board to approve these textbook choices on 4/11/2017 is VOID.