Sun doesn’t shine on HUD’s closed-door sober homes meeting with local leaders

At least 15 elected officials were among a roster of more than 50 government leaders from Palm Beach and Broward counties who met behind closed doors Monday in Delray Beach.

The purpose of their meeting: To discuss with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development possible strategies for how towns and cities can draft local laws aimed at stemming the influx of sober homes.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez (center) and Congresswoman Lois Frankel (center right) speak with local leaders about sober homes at the Crest Theatre in Delray Beach's Old School Square Monday, May 2, 2016. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez (center) and Congresswoman Lois Frankel (center right) speak with local leaders about sober homes at the Crest Theatre in Delray Beach’s Old School Square Monday, May 2, 2016. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Some of those elected officials serve on the same board.

Among the attendees: West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio and city commissioner Shanon Materio; Boynton Beach mayor Steven Grant and city commissioners Christina Romelus and Joe Casello; and Boca Raton mayor Susan Haynie and councilman Robert Weinroth.

But the public and media were not allowed to attend.

Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law contains open meetings requirements that apply to almost all state and local public bodies with the exception of the courts and the state Legislature, which have their own constitutional provisions.

The law says meetings at which public business is to be transacted or discussed must be opened and noticed to the public. The courts have interpreted that to mean that “any discussion by two or more members of the same board or commission in which foreseeable action will be taken,” Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a Tallahassee nonprofit focused on open government, has said.

An agenda for the meeting refered to the gathering as a “Sober Home Listening Session.” The meeting included discussions on how local governments might be able to eventually draft laws regulating sober homes.AGENDA

Congresswoman Lois Frankel, who hosted the meeting, said the gathering was closed to the media at the request of HUD officials.

“They wanted to have a frank and open discussion,’’ Frankel said at a post-meeting press conference.

She said there was “a concern’’ by HUD that “everything they say comes back in litigation. Instead of us sitting there all day with everybody being exact and not being able to explain what the issues were, that’s the reason. It was really for legal reasons that they didn’t want it (open to the press).’’

Photographers were allowed in to take still shots, but only after being told not to record any of the meeting with audio or video devices.

One Delray Beach resident said she tried to attend but was not allowed.

The meeting was encouraging for government leaders who attended. They are optimistic HUD officials will work with the Department of Justice on “a joint statement” clarifying federal laws that protect recovering drug addicts and alcoholics.

The joint statement could help local towns and cities in their efforts to draft laws regulating sober homes.

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