NOVEMBER 09, 2006
Commissioners of an upscale South Florida city are being investigated by state authorities for holding secret meetings at local bars and restaurants and having taxpayers fund the outings in which alcohol always flowed freely.
Besides passing on the tabs of these festive jaunts to taxpayers, Cooper City officials violated state open meeting laws and, this week, Governor Jeb Bush ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to launch an investigation.
The violations were discovered last week when a local television station’s hidden camera captured the mayor, commissioners and other city officials at a so-called “commission dinner” prior to an official meeting at City Hall. The broadcast shows several department heads and all five city commissioners holding wine glasses and beer bottles.
One bar tab, right before an August commission meeting, reported that 20 drinks were ordered in 45 minutes and other tabs reveal dinners totaling about $1,000, all paid with taxpayer money. Cooper City Mayor Debby Eisinger has denied any wrongdoing and said the city dinners were simply a tradition. She even took the time to write Governor Bush a 12-page letter justifying this expensive tradition that has undoubtedly cost the public thousands of dollars.
The restaurant and bar gatherings also violated the state’s open records law since official business was often discussed in private. Florida’s Sunshine Law is part of the state’s statute and establishes a basic right of access to public meetings, boards, commissions and other governing bodies of state and local governmental agencies or authorities.
In fact, the Sunshine State takes great pride in its reputation for putting high priority on the public’s right of access to governmental meetings and records. This kind of ongoing violation could bring serious punishment. Additionally, residents of Cooper City should be outraged that their public officials are dining and drinking on their dime.
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