Health, recovery focus of Congressman Rooney’s private meeting on algae

Representative Francis Rooney is hosting a roundtable of federal, state and local leaders to discuss harmful algal blooms at Florida Gulf Coast University on Tuesday.

Representatives from the CDC, EPA and NOAA will attend the event, which is not open to the public or press.

“I am encouraged that these key agency officials are coming together to help our community prepare for future algae outbreaks,” wrote Rooney in a press release.

However, emails obtained by WINK News show a more specific purpose of the meeting.

Dr. Michael Parsons, a marine scientists at FGCU taking part in the panel, suggested in April to Rooney senior legislative aide Ken Clifford that the roundtable include other agencies like Fish and Wildlife, the Florida Department of Agriculture, The Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Health.

Clifford wrote back, “We left the USACOE, SFWMD and FL Ag out of this because they get so much coverage on the issue. The Congressman really wants to focus on human health effects and future recovery.”

The email went on to explain, “We wanted to bring in the (Florida Department of Health) but with the confirmation delay, we have held off.”

The meeting has generated a lot of attention on social media because it is closed to the public.

“Sniff sniff. Closed meetings always smell funny. They may well be above board, but easier for the press and public to digest when the meetings are open. Closed meetings never generate trust,” wrote a WINK News viewer on Facebook.

On Friday, an attorney for WINK News wrote a letter to Rooney and the confirmed participants in the meeting laying out arguments for why holding the meeting in private is a violation of the state’s sunshine law.

MORE: Read our full legal argument why this meeting should be open to the public

Rooney’s office has not responded to that letter or multiple requests from WINK News.

Some in southwest Florida are in favor of the private meeting.

“Every meeting shouldn’t be open to the public. It makes it a dog and pony show rather than a real meeting to discuss many ideas and issues,” wrote another WINK News viewer on Facebook.

It’s important to point out that a publicly accessible meeting does not have to be held as a town hall style meetings where the public is asked to speak.

For example, Representative Charlie Crist held a meeting in August with scientists and local Tampa-Bay area leaders on red tide.

The meeting was in a small conference room, and members of the public were not in attendance, but the media was invited to document the outcome of the meeting.

Rooney’s office has not responded to that letter or multiple requests from WINK News.

Some in Southwest Florida are in favor of the private meeting.

“Every meeting shouldn’t be open to the public. It makes it a dog and pony show rather than a real meeting to discuss many ideas and issues,” wrote another WINK News viewer on Facebook.

It’s important to point out that a publicly accessible meeting does not have to be held as a town-hall-style meeting where the public is asked to speak.

For example, Representative Charlie Crist held a meeting in August with scientists and local Tampa Bay area leaders on red tide.

The meeting was in a small conference room, and members of the public were not in attendance, but the media was invited to document the outcome of the meeting.

Rooney’s office invited the media for a press conference following Tuesday’s close-door meeting. However, staffers did not respond to questions from WINK News about whether or not a transcript or any record of the private meeting would be made available to the public following the actual roundtable.

The roundtable discussion will take place at 12 p.m. at FGCU’s Emergent Technology Institute.

For a full list of attendees, click here.

Reporter:Lauren Sweeney
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