After years of contentious litigation involving a suit filed by Lake Point Phase I, LLC and Lake Point Phase II, LLC against the South Florida Water Management District, the District’s Governing Board held a meeting with its General Counsel Brian Accardo behind closed doors to discuss the case. Moments after the closed-door meeting concluded, and without advance release of the settlement agreement or public discussion regarding its merits, the District’s Board voted unanimously to settle the case on terms that were at the time undisclosed. [Additional background on this case can be found here.]
According to a lawsuit filed Monday, March 11, 2019, the first day of “Government in the Sunshine Week,“ this sort of ceremonious pageantry to formally accept an agreement that had already been decided upon entirely behind closed doors blatantly violates Florida’s open government laws.What actually transpired in that “shade meeting” is not known because the District has refused to release the transcript of the closed-door session with its attorney, in spite of a legal requirement that it do so as soon as the litigation was concluded.
In fact, the District was so anxious to keep the discussions that took place behind closed doors top secret, it sued an environmental organization, Everglades Law Center, for having made a public records request for a copy of the transcript. Initially the District claimed the transcript could not be made public because there was still on-going litigation between Lake Point and another party. In later pleadings, the District claimed that the transcript must remain secret not only until all the related litigation ends, but forever, because the closed-door meeting included discussions of what had happened at a prior court ordered mediation, and such “mediation communications” are confidential.
The complaint filed earlier this month on behalf of local activist Pangioti Tsolkas alleges that the District’s Board “privately decided to settle the Lake Point litigation, as well as the specific terms upon which the lawsuit would be settled.” This, according to Tsolkas, is antithetical of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law, which requires public business to be conducted in the public, not behind closed doors. Tsolkas says the settlement agreement obligates the District to buy a minimum of 50,000 tons of rubble mined by Lake Point, whether the excavated materials are needed or not, and allows Lake Point to sell water, a concept contrary to the basic premise that Florida’s water is a public resource managed for the public’s benefit.
According to Marcy LaHart, the attorney representing Tsolkas, “while avoiding the uncertainty of litigation is often in the public’s interest, the lengths to which the District has gone to keep secret its reasoning behind entering the Lake Point settlement agreement is unprecedented. Regardless of whether entering the settlement agreement was a good thing or a bad thing, every penny the District will spend implementing the agreement and complying with its terms is the public’s money, and the public has a right to know why their public officials chose to settle the case when and how they did.” Media inquiries contact Marcy LaHart, marcy@floridaanimallawyer.
The Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition urges you to get active in the District 87 race
See a map of District 87 below
Samson LeBeau Kpadenou is running as a Green candidate for the Florida House, representing District 87. Learn more at Samson2018.com.
It's rare that an authentic grassroots community activist steps forward to engage in an electoral system dominated by corporate interests. This campaign represents one of these rare moments.
Samson (who many of us know as LeBeau) has been involved with the PBC Environmental Coalition and other environmental/social justice efforts for several years, attending meetings, hearings and demonstrations. He is the co-chair of the county and state Green Party, which had been one of the most active organizations in the PBCEC, offering support for local efforts to challenge over-development for the past two decades. On top of that, District 87 includes the northwest portion of Lake Worth, a long-time stronghold of environmental activists in South Florida.
In his own words:
As American discontent and deep political corruption and ineptitude in both of the major parties spilled onto our front pages and news feeds, I realized that almost across the board our political system had been corrupted to serve the wealthy few over the working many. I discovered that we have few honest actors in our government. I observed that our political class with their ivy league and business school degrees are no smarter than us, just better connected. I suddenly knew that if the people did not come together, hold government accountable and take our government back, things could only get worse for average Americans.
When I became civically engaged I found it to be my passion. I joined organizations that were fighting to make the political process answer to the people, or founded them where necessary. I began attending city and county commission and school board meetings and speaking out to them about issues that most impact our communities, like immigrant protections, environmental racism and gentrification. I took several trips to Tallahassee to argue for union rights, fracking bans, protections from wage and tip theft, public school funding and more.
I currently serve as co-chair to the Green Party of Florida and the Palm Beach County Green Party. I am the founder of Black Lives Matter Palm Beach County and the treasurer of the Palm Beach County Democratic Socialists of America. I am also an active member of the Palm Beach Tenants’ Union and the League of Women Voters.