Gov. DeSantis says FL Cabinet may not meet monthly anymore

Gov. Ron DeSantis and AG Ashley Moody planted a tree in the John F. Kennedy Peace Forest in the Jerusalem hills on May 29, 2019. Source: Governor's office.

Gov. Ron DeSantis was pleased enough with the Florida Cabinet’s meeting in Jerusalem this week to suggest hitting the road more often. That won’t mean convening once per month, as has long been the practice.

DeSantis acknowledged “a little hiccup at the start” of the meeting Wednesday, but said he was glad the Cabinet could gather in such an “historic” setting – an annex to the United States’ new embassy in Jerusalem.

“I think the Florida Cabinet should be expeditionary – and we’ve shown that we can do that,” he told reporters after the meeting.

The governor and Cabinet – who preside over key areas of Florida government, including environmental and police protection, state investments, and insurance regulation – have cancelled four meetings since early April.

DeSantis said that was because he was preoccupied moving his priorities through the Legislature’s spring regular session. But he saw no need to stick to the traditional schedule.

“You can meet however often you want,” he said. “Probably not going to be every month.”

DeSantis scoffed at criticism by media organizations who said holding a Cabinet meeting 6,000 miles away – creating a high bar for citizen participation – violates the state’s Sunshine Law.

The Florida First Amendment Foundation and four news organization sued, citing the lack of public access in an unsuccessful legal bid to block the Cabinet meeting in Israel. But Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey ruled against the media organizations, saying they had failed to serve proper legal notice on the governor and Cabinet – who were in Israel at the time.

DeSantis said the meeting was not a violation of Florida’s open-meeting laws.

“So how is livestreaming anything, where everyone in the state can just log on and see it – how would that possibly be a problem? It’s not,” the governor said. “I think people sometimes just want to cause a ruckus. Maybe it got more interest in our Cabinet meetings throughout the state, because there usually isn’t a hell of a lot.”

But from the vantage of the Cabinet room in the state Capitol, the live feed of the proceedings in Israel was plagued by technical glitches. It frequently was impossible to make out what members of the Cabinet or Israel experts in terrorism, water management, and emergency management were saying. People watching the Florida Channel feed in their homes or offices might have had a better experience – the channel’s archived video replayed smoothly. But hardly anybody showed up in the panel’s traditional Capitol venue, outside perhaps 20 people including aides, plus a half-dozen reporters.

The remote meeting lacked the usual interplay between the governor and Cabinet and regular constituents – schoolkids on field trips; teachers and emergency responders being recognized for their work; the odd tourist who wanders in.

The First Amendment Foundation is plotting its next move, according to Barbara Petersen, its president. “Ideally, we would like the Cabinet to agree that it will not hold meetings outside the state of Florida,” she said.

Attorney General Ashley Moody also defended the Cabinet’s adherence to the Sunshine Law. “From the moment this Cabinet meeting was announced by this governor, we have been diligent in ensuring that we complied with the Sunshine Law,” she said.

She and the governor both said that the Cabinet has met on several occasions by telephone conference since January with no legal challenges. For example, one such conference transpired on Jan. 24. The Florida Channel streamed the exchange and the public was invited to listen in the Cabinet room.

“It’s not being done in secret or anything, and nobody’s said that’s a problem,” DeSantis said.

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