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Court rules St. Petersburg City Council violated Sunshine Law

The St. Petersburg City Council violated the state’s open-meetings law in 2011 when it discussed changes to a trespass ordinance during a closed-door meeting that was supposed be limited to talking about litigation, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The Sunshine Law includes an exemption for government boards to privately discuss litigation strategy or settlements.

But a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that the St. Petersburg council violated the law during a so-called “shade” meeting related to a lawsuit filed by homeless people challenging a trespass ordinance.

Wednesday’s ruling said the meeting focused heavily on a proposed amendment to the ordinance that was later approved in a public meeting.

“(The) attorneys and council members reviewed the terms of the draft amendment, discussed the urgency of and policy reasons for passing the amendment so that the city could resume enforcement … and expressed their consensus in favor of the amendment,” said the ruling, written by Judge Stevan Northcutt and joined by judges Patricia Kelly and Marva Crenshaw.

“In short, the shade meeting was used to crystallize a secret decision to a point just short of ceremonial acceptance, in violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law.”

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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