Letter: Private sales tax survey blocked from public
Dr. Michel S. Pawlowski, D.Sc., CEM
St. Augustine Beach, FL
I want to share with Historic City News readers my formal request for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to intervene before the release of purported results from a recent survey, privately conducted and paid for, in anticipation of a referendum on adding one-percent to all sales tax levied in St Johns County.
Duval County is under order of a Federal Judge to renegotiate an employee pension agreement, originally negotiated privately, because the court found such activities in violation of open meeting requirements of Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law. Thousands of dollars in legal fees were wasted before a ruling in the matter was obtained.
St Johns County Commissioners may unknowingly be violating Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law by obtaining and utilizing a private survey, paid for by private individuals, without the benefit of public involvement.
The public has “a constitutionally guaranteed right of access” to the meetings and activities of those conducting these efforts on behalf of the county, according to the Attorney General’s website.
- I understand that the construction of and conduct of the survey may have violated commitments made in keeping its development open, etc.
- From the information I have been offered by respondents, the actual survey is misleading and slanted.
- I have repeatedly requested to be involved in observing this process — to no avail. Repeatedly, my requests have been unanswered and ignored.
The light of day needs to shine on this activity.
I have a background in conducting surveys and polling, and repeatedly have been locked out of any involvement to make certain that this survey is valid — both in design and conduct. If the survey is a private funded initiative to support public decision making, then certainly its development, conduct, and analysis, must conform to Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law.
I have reported these apparent violations to the Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi for review. I am not an expert in the law, but her office is, especially in this matter. I included a copy of my correspondence with her to the Executive Office of Governor Rick Scott – Office of Citizen Services.
This is a very important matter for the citizens of St Johns County. Time is of the essence; because, according to statements in the media, results of the survey may soon be released.
- I am requesting her to appoint Pat Gleason, the in-house expert on Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law, to review the material and to visit St Johns County and review all aspects of ongoing and prior conduct of the survey to determine if there are any violations of Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law.
- I am also requesting that the Attorney General inform the St Johns County Commissioners, by official correspondence, as well as the individual who has apparently paid for the private survey, Eddie Creamer, that no results of this activity, thus far, can be released prior to her office’s review of this matter, on the basis of open meeting requirements in Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law which have not been met.
I am certain that our commissioners mean well; but, sometimes Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law, public records, and open government laws, need clarification.