An article that has appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, captures the essence of why there are so many violations of Florida’s Sunshine laws. According to the article, a number of Sarasota’s top city officials, including two city commissioners, attended a private party at Sarasota Mayor Suzanne Atwell’s home in the exclusive residential enclave on Bird Key. Ostensibly, the occasion was intended to welcome new City Manager Tom Barwin. Barwin is replacing former City Manager Robert Bartolotta. Bartolotta resigned amid allegations of improprieties regarding…you guessed it…a lack of transparency in city government.
One would hope the city’s leadership might mend their ways, given their long history of Sunshine violations and the fact that Andrea Mogensen and Michael Barfield, (arguably two of the most prominent and aggressive proponents of open government in Florida), regularly sue the city over those violations. A prudent person would go out of their way to avoid anything that might suggest impropriety. For example, attending private parties where two or more members of the same collegial board are in attendance and are surrounded by other city officials. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Sarasota.
One of the key obstacles to changing the culture Sunshine violations is the fact that violators don’t pay a dime for their misdeeds. We do.
When Mogensen and Barfield file suit – and that is almost a weekly event – the taxpayers pick-up the tab. I don’t blame Mogensen or Barfield for that; they are doing important work by vindicating our right to know what is being done in our name and at our expense. I don’t even blame the jackasses at city hall who break the law; they are only doing what we’ve conditioned them to do. I blame us, the voters, because we don’t seem to care that our money is being flushed down the toilet every time we pick-up the tab for defending the bad acts of the corrupt officials that we keep in office.
As long as we, the voters of Florida, keep returning corrupt officials to office, this culture will never change. We’re the problem and we’re the solution. All we have to do is care enough to demand better. Until then, don’t expect anything to change.