Court: Alachua violated state open records law

The city was obligated to provide meeting minutes to political activists, a court ruled.


Published: Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 at 11:32 p.m.

A state district court ruled Thursday that the city of Alachua violated the state's public records law in 2006 by not meeting political activists Charles Grapski and Michael Canney's request for a copy of meeting minutes for the city Canvassing Board.

The minutes were from the Canvassing Board meeting of April 11, 2006, which certified the results of a disputed city election held that day.

The Alachua City Commission approved the minutes as a consent agenda item during a May 15, 2006, meeting, without making their contents available to the public.

Grapski and Canney filed a records request for a copy of the minutes before the vote to approve them occurred, but, according to the opinion from the 1st District Court of Appeals, Deputy City Clerk Alan Henderson denied the request, saying the minutes would be made available after their approval.

The city eventually provided the minutes "many months later," and a trial court ruled the case against Alachua was moot because the public records request had eventually been met before the filing of the lawsuit.

The appeals court disagreed.

"Under the present facts, the city's denial not only breached the duty to provide such records at a reasonable time and under reasonable conditions, but also contravened the purpose and mandate of the public records law," the opinion stated.

The appeals court voided the city's 2006 approval of the minutes and ordered Alachua to pay a "reasonable" amount for Grapski and Canney's attorney's fees, with the trial court determining the amount owed at a future date.

University of Florida Levin College of Law Professor Emeritus Joe Little, the attorney for Grapski and Canney, said his clients encountered a "continued practice of failing to comply with the public records law" when dealing with Alachua officials.

Rod Smith, the attorney who represented Alachua, could not be reached for comment Friday morning.

The appeals court did not completely reverse the trial court's decision.

The appeals panel ruled that Alachua did not violate the open meetings law by failing to post the vote on the minutes in advance on an agenda or by approving an item on the consent agenda over the objections of a member of the public.

Little said his clients believed "the meeting can't be open if the public doesn't know what's going on at the meeting."

"The court disagreed with us," he said.

The appeals court ruled that Alachua violated the state's public meeting law by not making minutes of a public meeting - the Canvassing Board meeting of April 11, 2006 - available to the public.

Contact Christopher <0x000A>Curry at 374-5088 or chris.curry@gvillesun.com.

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