SUIT ALLEGES ST. PETERSBURG CITY COUNCIL VIOLATED SUNSHINE LAWS

For Immediate Release
Contact: Kirsten Clanton (352) 271-8890
St. Petersburg, FL (November 21, 2013): Rev. Bruce Wright filed a lawsuit today against the City of St. Petersburg alleging violations of Florida’s Sunshine Law by the City Council. The lawsuit alleges that the City Council decided to amend a city trespass ordinance in a meeting that was closed to the public. The City held a closed attorney-client session to discuss a federal lawsuit related to one of its city ordinances and during that session exceeded its authority by deliberating and deciding to amend the ordinance. The City’s vote to amend the ordinance was public after it came out of the closed session, but it never held public discussions or deliberations about the amendment, which violates Florida’s Sunshine Law.

Rev. Wright asks the circuit court for the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Florida to declare that the City’s amended ordinance is void due to the City’s failure to follow proper procedures and open its deliberations to the public at all times. Rev. Wright is represented by Southern Legal Counsel, Inc. (SLC). Kirsten Clanton, attorney with SLC, stated, “Florida’s Sunshine Law is rooted in constitutional and statutory guarantees that all meetings of city
commissions must be open to the public. The City Council does not have the legal authority to take formal action on amending an ordinance except at a public meeting.” The City’s actions deprived residents of their right to participate in its decision-making process. As Rev. Wright stated, “”This violation of the Sunshine laws is undemocratic to the core. Citizens have the right to participate in the decision-making process to pass ordinances so that there can be real public debate. Instead, the City Council and the Mayor, duly elected by the public and working for all of has, held a secret meeting to discuss enacting this trespass ordinance and excluded the public from that process.”
Rev. Wright has a particular interest in the ordinance in question: a city police officer issued him a trespass warning banning him from Williams Park for one year under authority granted by the City’s trespass ordinance. He is separately appealing the City’s decision to issue him a trespass warning in another case previously filed with the circuit court.
Southern Legal Counsel (SLC) is a nonprofit public interest law firm committed to the ideal of equal justice for all and the attainment of basic civil and human rights. It works to make this ideal a reality by providing legal representation to individuals and groups who would otherwise not have access to the justice system and whose cases may bring about systemic reform. SLC’s Homeless Advocacy Project works statewide in Florida to protect
and defend the civil and human rights of homeless persons and their advocates.