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North Central Florida Regional Planning Council: Executive Dir. Scott Koons Ignores Florida’s Sunshine Law

Scott Koons was advised he was violating the law

NCFRPC Executive Director Scott Koons and past Council President Janice Mortimer (seated)
Columbia County Observer photo | NCFRPC Executive Director Scott Koons and past Council President Janice Mortimer (seated)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Following Florida’s Open Meeting Laws and opinions of the Florida Attorney General are not the strong suit of Scott Koons, the Executive Director of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council (NCFRPC).

Among many, the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council  (NCFRPC) is a standing joke. It pays its Executive Director over a quarter-million dollars a year (which includes benefits) to supervise five employees, and last year, it came up with a First Amendment-violating policy that bans criticism of its Executive Director. Many Council members thought this policy, developed by member Janice Mortimer of Starke, was “over the top” but refused to criticize a fellow Council member.

The Planning Council's Attorney refused to weigh in in writing.

While Executive Director Koons is exemplary, at least with this reporter, in following the requirements of Florida’s public record law, the requirements of open meetings have at times been problematic.

On June 12, 2024, the NCFRPC hosted a meeting for what is known as the Local Coordinating Board (LCB), a group of elected officials and citizens who set or approve many state-mandated policies for the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) . The SVTA provides transportation for the disadvantaged and other things.

Once a year, the LCB holds state-mandated public hearings. The purpose of the hearings is to obtain public input on ways local transportation in the tri-county area of Columbia, Hamilton, and Suwannee Counties can be improved.

Because public transportation in rural areas is and has been a continuing issue throughout Florida and North Florida, these public hearings are significant.

Important Public Hearing:
Not Important to NCFRPC’s Ex. Dir Scott Koons

Executive Director Koons, along with John Irvine of DOT, has sabotaged these public hearings before, but the June 12 hearing was exceptional.

The June 12 meeting was noticed and scheduled to be held at a DOT facility in Lake City. Meetings have been held there before without incident.

Emails went out advising the media and others of this important meeting.

So far, no problem.

However, the Planning Council was holding a public meeting in a building that required all attendees to show identification:

 PLEASE NOTE: The Florida Department of Transportation is enforcing new Mandatory Safety Guidelines. All meeting attendees will be checked in and must show identification

(in block letters and underlined as in the original email)

Your reporter did not read the email right away. There were two of them.

Before the meeting, an email was sent to Executive Director Koons and John Irvine of DOT, Columbia County’s County Attorney, and the elected official of the Planning Council advising them of this faux pas.

Scott Koons and DOT Did the Public Wrong:
The Law Was Just Ignored

Your reporter is a property owner and taxpayer in the region. His email left no doubt about the violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law and Florida’s long tradition of openness.

He wrote the following to Scott Koons, the DOT’s Irvine, and the others (abridged for this article).

The Planning Council is having an issue noticing and being in compliance with the Florida statutes.

The Florida Constitution and Florida Attorney General opinions are clear.

Meetings Must Be Open To The Public, To All Persons

The Government in the Sunshine Law, section 286.011, Florida Statutes, requires that meetings of a public board or commission be "open to the public."

In the absence of a specific exemption provided by law, covered boards or commissions must meet in the sunshine. [The NCFRPC-LCB meeting is one of those meetings]

Public access to meetings of public boards or commissions is a key element of the Sunshine Law.

The Atty. Gen. has stated that the term "public" means "the people as a whole" and that the phrase "open to the public" means open to all persons who choose to attend.

Access to Public Meeting Cannot Be Unreasonably Restricted:

You do not have to provide ID to attend

Section 286.011(6), Florida Statutes, specifically provides that people attending public meetings cannot be “unreasonably” restricted to “public access to meetings.”

In 1996, the Florida Attorney General was asked if a public meeting to be held in a facility where access was limited to those providing identification was permitted and in concert with Florida law.

The attorney general found that requiring identification provided a chilling effect on the public's willingness to attend.

Three Decades of Opinions and Law Ignored by Scott Koons:
The Law: Actions are “void and of no effect”

The Florida statutes are clear. The Atty. Gen. opined in 1996, almost three decades ago, in relevant part:

"Limiting points of access to meetings, hearings, and workshops subject to the provisions of s. 286.011 to places not normally open to the public shall be presumed to violate the right of access of the public; and any official action taken under such circumstances is void and of no effect."
(emphasis added by the Observer)

The AG continued:

"Persons who wish to attend... may be reluctant to attend a meeting at a place not normally open to the public at which they must provide identification to enter."

Additionally, the Attorney General wrote:

"I am of the opinion that the ... board should not hold its meetings in a facility in which the public has limited access and in which there may be a "chilling" effect on the public's willingness to attend the meeting when there are other public facilities available for the board's use."

Your reporter concluded: I know people who are chilled by your ill-founded decision to hold your public meeting in a building that requires providing identification and limited access. This is the first time I have ever seen this since I have been covering open meetings in Florida, or anywhere.


The meeting wasn’t canceled and rescheduled.

At least one person was denied access long enough to have missed the public hearing.

The Planning Council had no right to hold a public meeting which required ID to attend. Thus, your reporter, who had something to contribute at the hearing, did not attend.

Tonight, the Planning Council, mainly composed of the region's local elected officials, meets. They will have the opportunity to right the wrong and do the right thing.

Stay tuned.

Correction: All emails sent by the Planning Council mentioned the manditory ID requirement. Before the correction, the article inferred that the first email sent by the Planning Council omitted the ID requirement. (June 27, 2024 11:31 am)

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