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School Board to Decide if Sunshine Law Should Extend to Union Negotiations


BRADENTON – At Monday's school board meeting, board member David Miner's proposal that collective bargaining sessions between the board and unions be recorded was met with both support and opposition from his colleagues. 

Mr. Miner argued that such an amendment would protect the board from possible false accusations that sunshine law was violated during a meeting with a union, as well as  

assure the public that board members were following sunshine law by not discussing anything other than the negotiations at hand during such meetings. But others countered that recording the meetings could weaken the effectiveness of the district's negotiating power with unions, and hurt open dialog by making people in attendance more careful about what they're going to say during discussions.

Miner also noted that current law only allows for the superintendent, his appointed bargaining team and the board to be present during collective bargaining, and said that recording those meetings would provide proof that the law was not being violated by way of another party being present. "This proposal is a way to avoid those problems; to keep us out of jail and on good behavior," he said. "It's not to just keep us compliant with the law, it's to provide insurance to the public that we are following the law...(So that) anybody who claims that we did not follow the law, there would be a record to show that we did, (and it would not be made public) until the conclusion of the negotiations. 

Board member Barbara Harvey asked if the law currently requires the board has to tape bargaining meetings, to which Mr. Miner confirmed that it doesn't. "If we don't have to by law, then I know how to vote," she said. Mrs. Harvey's colleague Robert Gause expressed opposition to the proposal, saying, "Releasing what we say in meetings, from a negotiating standpoint, is generally not a good way to approach business if you want to be effective at bargaining with people." 

Board Attorney John Bowen, while not taking a position on the issue, advised that the recording the sessions indeed may weaken the effectiveness of future collective bargaining strategies or positions by the board that are discussed during a session with the board's CEO, as those strategies would then be available to the union, who "would then have notice of what (the board's) position will be." 

Mr. Gause also argued that recording the meetings would make people in them more guarded with their words, to the detriment of the discussion: "One of the things that also goes on in a (collective bargaining) session is that people are more open about their opinions. When people know that (they'll be recorded), they have a tendency to be less honest. We have to have the ability to have honest dialog in that room, and can't worry that someone is going to take something that someone said and twist it. It doesn't work in a business situation." 

Board member Julie Aranibar countered, "I think we're supposed to be honest whether we're on or off the record."

In turn, Mr. Gause said, "What I've observed over the years is that when a session is recorded, people sometimes posture and say things for the public to hear. That is my personal obversation. In a private, non-recorded meeting, people are able to say everything that they feel in an open and honest way without worrying that it's going to be out there in a different way." 

Mr. Miner differed: "My experience is that when people know that when their comments are going to be recorded, they will make an extra effort to be honest and clear." 

At the end of the discussion, Board Chair Karen Carpenter advised that the proposal would be on the next meeting's agenda.


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