New Miami commissioners sworn-in at private ceremony
Two newly elected Miami City Commissioners were sworn in this Saturday at a private gathering.
Friends, family and political supporters gathered at City Hall to celebrate Damian Pardo and Miguel Gabela’s procedural entrance to government office, but the meeting was not publicly advertised — a move that raised concerns with Florida open government advocates.
Pardo and Gabela were voted in in a runoff election on November 21, at the same time as new Miami Beach Mayor Steven Meiner.
Meiner’s public swearing-in was held on Nov. 28 and was advertised on the city’s website.
The City of Miami did not issue notice for the Saturday, Dec. 2 ceremony, or put any information on the city’s official online channels. Instead, the new commissioners told constituents and supporters personally about the event offline.
Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law requires that meetings of government boards and commissions be open and that reasonable notice of the meetings must be given to the public.
Todd Hannon, Miami’s City Clerk, said the new commissioners were not discussing city business or taking any official government action, so the ceremony did not run afoul of any open government laws.
“It’s purely just a procedural swearing in, it’s informal,” Hannon told WLRN. “This is a purely procedural administration of the oath so they can assume the office.”
Under the city charter, Dec. 2 at noon was the earliest Pardo and Gabela could be sworn in. A public swearing-in ceremony is scheduled for December 16, and Hannon said that the procedural event was done so Pardo and Gabela can begin voting and working before then.
Dave Cuillier, director of the Brechner Freedom of Information Project at the University of Florida, said that regardless if the private ceremony raises legal questions, the optics are not great.
“There's no reason to make this a secret thing. If they're meeting together to get sworn in, to get started with work, then that's the sort of thing that should be open,” Cuillier told WLRN.
Anthony Alfieri, a University of Miami law professor and local government ethics advocate, said official gatherings should allow more public participation.
“Simply in terms of good democratic governance, then you want to be as open and as transparent and as accountable as you can,” Alfieri asserted.
Pardo said he did his part to inform the community about the ceremony at local meetings and invite them to come, and that the city was transparent in his estimation.
“I certainly didn't feel at any moment in this process that there was a component that was being withheld in any way. I think they've been very open and transparent about it,” Pardo said. “I think they wanted to get it done as quickly as possible.
Pardo and Gabela’s first official gathering will be a special City Commission meeting on December 11 to vote to validate the city budgetfollowing a request from the State of Florida.