Lake Shore Hosp. Auth.: Public in the Dark – $300,000 Later, Public Records Still an Issue
Posted Oct. 27, 2015 04:15 pm | Updated Nov. 9, 2015*
Jack Berry comments about the pay plan.
COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Governor's Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board continues to keep the public in the dark with the help of its attorney, Fred Koberlein. Your reporter arrived at the last night's meeting early and asked to see a copy of the proposed new pay policy. Authority Manager Berry, whose failure to produce public records recently resulted in Zurich Insurance paying about $300,000 in legal fees after Mr. Berry refused to allow the inspection of a public record, told your reporter, "You've got to file a public record request."
Keeping the Public in the Dark
Keeping the public in the dark continues to be the hallmark of the Governor's handpicked Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board.
Manager Berry and the Board continue to ignore the Florida statutes by not posting the Authority meeting agendas to the Authority's website until after the meetings. The summary agendas are available at the meetings. Manager Berry has hung his hat on an opinion which he requested in February from the then new Authority Attorney, Fred Koberlein. After receiving Attorney Koberlein's opinion, Mr. Berry stopped posting the agendas to the Authority website until days after the meeting.
The Authority Board shrugged.
In a February email to Manager Berry, Attorney Koberlein wrote in part:
Over the past couple of years I have attended many conferences and seminars where there has been much speculation that the legislature will eventually pass specific laws requiring all public bodies to post materials in advance, due in large part to the normalcy of websites and technology. I mention this so that you might consider having your IT professional look into making the technology available to your staff in the future.
Months ago, before the Authority spent thousands upgrading its computer system, authority Board member and Representative Elizabeth Porter's Chief of Staff, Koby Adams, asked if with the new system, the Authority would be able to post all its agenda material to the website.
Manager Berry answered that it would.
The old Authority system was working fine. The one-page Authority summary agendas were posted.
The new system was installed. The agendas came down.
$300,000 Later, Public Records Still an Issue
Lorry Chancy (file photo)
Your reporter arrived early at the LSHA meeting to see the agenda. One of the items, after clarification by Chairwoman Chancy, was a new Authority "Employee Pay Policy."
Your reporter asked Ms. Chancy if there was copy of the policy. Ms. Chancy looked through her papers.
Attorney Koberlein was watching.
Manager Berry chimed in, "You've got to file a public records request."
Your reporter asked Ms. Chancy if the policy may be changed.
Ms. Chancy said yes.
Authority Attorney Fred Koberlein (file photo)
The meeting hadn't begun. Manager Berry, Chairwoman Chancy, Board Attorney Koberlein, and the rest of the Board had copies.
Your reporter addressed Manager Berry, "I'm asking to see it, now."
Mr. Berry ignored the request.
Your reporter followed up asking if Mr. Berry heard him.
Mr. Berry replied, "Well you're not gonna' to see it right now. You can file a public records request."
The public records law does not require record requests to be in writing.
Shortly thereafter, the meeting was gaveled to order. During the public comment portion of the meeting, your reporter asked Ms. Chancy about the policy. She said it was the amended [pay] policy that was on the agenda.
Your reporter asked again to see the pay policy, reminding the Board that SB50 (FL stat. 286.0114) allows the public to comment on matters coming before the Board. Your reporter told the Board, "It's impossible for the public to comment if they can't see what it is you're about to vote on... I'm asking that the item be withdrawn or I get a copy so I can see it and comment on it, as the legislature has given the public the right to do that."
No one volunteered to allow your reporter to see the policy.
Towards the end of the meeting, Board member Murphy asked Attorney Koberlein, "Regarding some of the statements [your reporter's] made at the podium earlier, are we within the guidelines of the law?"
Mr. Koberlein opined in relevant part, "You must present an opportunity to speak... Mr. Lilker used his opportunity to speak, so therefore the Authority's well within the purviews of that statute."
Neither Attorney Koberlein, Chairwoman Chancy, Manager Berry, nor any of Governor Scott's handpicked board explained how one can comment on a proposition (the pay policy) if they weren't given access to it.
It was Governor Scott who signed SB50 into law.
* Paragraph concerning posting of agendas clarified