Lease stands despite invalid meeting
FLORIDA — A lease between the Pigeon Key Preservation Foundation and the Monroe County government can stand even though an advisory group charged with negotiating the lease violated the state’s Sunshine Law, a state appeals court ruled in mid-July.
In a 2-1 reversal of a trial court decision, the state court of appeals in Miami ruled that even though the Pigeon Key Advisory Committee held illegal closed meetings, its violations were cured by its subsequent public meetings and that of the county commission addressing the same issues; the reading of the minutes into the public record, and the ultimate adoption of a lease substantially different from the advisory committee’s recommendations.
In January and March 1993 the Pigeon Key Advisory Committee, under directions of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners in Key West, met to work out lease terms and a master plan for the foundation’s work.
The foundation had successfully bid on a plan to restore and preserve Pigeon Key, an island near Marathon, Fla., with a proposal to establish a marine environmental education and research center on the island. Minutes of the advisory committee meetings, later made public, showed that they focused on the suggestions of business organizations to make Pigeon Key a tourist attraction. In June the committee met publicly in compliance with the Sunshine Law. Commission and foundation attorneys eliminated the tourist use provision, agreeing that the bond issue providing for Pigeon Key restoration stipulated public use. The county commission then held two public hearings and accepted an amended lease. The commission read minutes of the closed advisory committee meetings into the public record.
Pigeon Key Historical Park, a group of residents interested in promoting a theme park on the island, then sued to have the lease invalidated because of the illegal meetings.
The trial court in Key West had ruled in September that the lease was null, tainted by its beginnings in illegal closed sessions. The Pigeon Key Historical Park group has asked for a rehearing.
(Monroe County, Fla. v. Pigeon Key Historical Park; Counsel: James Hendrick, Key West)