In February, Bal Harbour Shops made a formal public records request to the Bal Harbour Village Clerk seeking copies of specific communications made by Assistant Mayor Patricia Cohen related to Bal Harbour Shops and its planned enhancements to the Shops and surrounding community. The Shops subsequently made a second formal request seeking communications from Village Mayor Martin Packer when records submitted by the Assistant Mayor included Shops-related correspondence with the Mayor.
Both requests were made in strict adherence with the Florida Public Records Act (click here to learn about the Act), which aims to ensure that elected officials govern in a transparent manner. The law applies to elected officials across the State of Florida, inclusive of the Bal Harbour Mayor and Village Council.
Is a public records request unusual?
Public records requests are in fact quite common, with individual residents, organizations and businesses regularly requesting documents from their local governments. Bal Harbour Village is no exception: numerous public records requests have been made of the Village in recent years, with the Village providing prompt responses to those requests.
Why make the public records request?
Bal Harbour Shops was alerted to the possibility that Assistant Mayor Cohen had directed residents not to contact her on her official, Village-issued e-mail addresses (where elected officials are required to address official public business), but instead to contact her using a number of private e-mail addresses. Concerned that the Assistant Mayor could be handling business related to the Shops Enhancement Plan out of view of the public – and in contravention of the Florida Public Records Act – the Shops issued its formal public records request to the Village.
When it became clear that the Assistant Mayor’s communications had not been properly preserved by the Village over a period of seven years as required by law – and were not being produced in a timely manner as required by law – the Shops formally requested that the Courts intervene. The aim was to ensure that all documents were being properly preserved – both for the benefit of the Shops and for all Bal Harbour residents. Click here to read the court order.
Ultimately, public records were produced by the Assistant Mayor and confirmed that she:
- Encouraged residents to contact her on her private e-mail addresses for public, Village-related matters (click here to read the e-mail)
- Used her private e-mail accounts exhaustively to conduct official Village business away from public view – including matters related to the Shops Enhancement Plan
- Shared handwritten notes with fellow Council members during public meetings, again in contravention of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law, as evidenced in this video of the April 13, 2016 Village Council Meeting: Watch here. A copy of a note shared by the Assistant Mayor with Mayor Packer during that meeting can be viewed here: view the note
- Included fellow Council members in e-mails pertaining to matters that would foreseeably come before the full Council, in contravention of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law. Click here to see the relevant section of the Florida Attorney General’s Sunshine Law Manual.
- While conducting public Council meetings, purposely spoke to the Mayor out of reach of microphones – presumably about Village business – as evidenced in this video of the April 13, 2016 Village Council Meeting: Watch here. The Sunshine Law states that “discussions of public business which are audible only to a select few’ who are at the table with the board members may violate the ‘openness’ requirement of the law”.
- Consulted with a private citizen on how to prevent Bal Harbour Shops from legally purchasing land in the Village (click here to read the email), and was later criticized by another resident for being coached by the same private citizen during Council meetings (click here to read email)
- Has a personal bias regarding Bal Harbour Shops and the plan to enhance the Shops as evidenced in many of the e-mails listed in our highlighted communications