Welcome to the First Day of 'Sunshine Week' in the State of Florida!
By Brad Friedman on 3/14/2006, 11:25am PT  

Meanwhile...Down in "the Sunshine State"...

Police called to remove reporters
Public meeting turns private when Cobb restricts access to reporters

Sunshine Week started off with the slamming of the secretary of state's door Monday, when Leon County Commissioner Bob Rackleff and news reporters were shut out of an announced public meeting on county voting issues.

"I've always said I have no objection to the press, but we do make faster progress without people having to look at cameras - that's a fact," said Florida Secretary of State Sue Cobb.

Tallahassee Democrat Political Editor Bill Cotterell, Associated Press reporter Brent Kallestad and cameraman Dave Heller also were threatened with eviction from a hallway outside Cobb's closed conference room by Capitol Police for trying to attend the meeting with Cobb, Leon County Commission Chairman Bill Proctor, Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho and staff members.

"I'm very concerned and very confused," Democrat Executive Editor Bob Gabordi said. "I have to know that when reporters show up to a meeting that has been given proper public notice, that they will not be harassed and threatened with arrest."

This story is just incredible.

For those just jumping into this tale, SoS Cobb (Jeb's recent political appointee) has been threatening Leon County's elected Election Supervisor Ion Sancho because he revealed that the Diebold voting machines in Florida and elsewhere can be hacked and flipped without a trace being left behind.

In the bargain, all three Voting Machine Companies certified to do business in Florida have now refused to do business with Sancho. Nonetheless --- and incredibly --- the state is now targetting [PDF] the heroic Sancho with threats to remove him from his elected position.

All, at the same time that Florida sent a "technical advisory" to all Election Supervisors in the state, warning them of what Sancho found --- but without mentioning their friends Diebold by name, and certainly not bothering to laud Sancho for discovering a huge electoral integrity issue in the "Sunshine State."

And now, a meeting with officials which is supposed to be open to the press and the public --- on the first day of Florida's phony "Sunshine Week", celebrating open government (no, seriously) --- results in closed doors, reporters tossed and calls to the police.

Just amazing...Please read on...

The county issued a public notice to the media Sunday about Monday's meeting, which was called by Cobb. The notice said Rackleff planned to attend, making it a special meeting of the County Commission. Cobb's office late last week distributed two letters she sent to Sancho and Proctor, inviting them to the meeting.

Under Florida's open-government law, which is being celebrated by state and national media this week, when two or more members of the board are together and may discuss issues of future board consideration, the meeting is open to the public and requires notice.

But when Rackleff tried to enter the meeting, he was turned away, along with reporters. With only Proctor inside, Cobb could call the meeting closed.

"This kicks it off with a bang," said Adria Harper, director of The First Amendment Foundation. "The public was invited and now they are being told they can't attend, and in the middle of Sunshine Week. It's almost an ironic tragedy that it is occurring."

In some instances, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled, even having a single board member present could constitute a public meeting if there is an effort to frustrate openness, Harper said. That was clearly the intent here, she added, but in any case, "they violated the spirit of the Sunshine Law."

Cobb suggested the meeting should be closed because the public notice did not come from her office.

"The press is not invited to this meeting," Cobb told reporters. "There might be a government-in-the-sunshine problem."

When reporters refused to leave the hallway outside the meeting room, Department of State officials called Capitol Police officers. Four uniformed officers arrived, but since no trespassing complaint had been filed, they said they would not stop the group from entering the meeting.

Rackleff went in, followed by reporters, and Cobb stopped the meeting. Sancho, who said he had no problem conducting business in public, told Rackleff it was essential talks with state and county officials happen in advance of today's commission workshop - and if the commissioner stayed those talks wouldn't happen. Rackleff agreed to leave, and the door was again shut.

"We are going to ask the press to step out again," Cobb said. "We are making some interesting progress."

The Democrat's editor praised the Capitol Police for the way its officers responded.

"It appears that Capitol Police exercised restraint in a confusing situation," Gabordi said. "We are grateful for their good judgment."

Standing in the hallway with a crowd of reporters as the closed meeting progressed, Rackleff said the day's events showed Florida knew how to honor openness: "Happy Sunshine Week - slam!"

If you haven't done so already, it's not too late to send a note of support for Sancho to Florida state officials. VoteTrustUSA has made it very easy to do...

(Hat tip Pokey Anderson!)