A judge has ruled that the city of Jacksonville violated Florida's sunshine law during closed-door negotiation over the summer with the city's Police and Fire Pension Fund over pension reform.
The Florida Times-Union filed suit against the city, claiming the meetings were a violation of open government laws, and in a ruling issued Tuesday, Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace agreed that the bargaining negotiations should have been public.
The agreement that resulted from the private negotiations was ultimately voted down by Jacksonville City Council.
In his ruling, Wallace enjoined the city and the Police and Fire Pension Board or their representatives from future pension negotiations without reasonable public notice, taking minutes and otherwise complying with Florida law.
"The mayor and the general counsel and the police and fire pension board came out and just announced they had a solution, which the city council then rejected," said Frank Denton, editor at the Times-Union. "The pension issue is a very big one for the future of the city of Jacksonville..and it has to be resolved in the sunshine in the public, so the public can be involved. That's what we argued and Judge Wallace agreed with us entirely."
The city's general council's office issued a short statement after the ruling.
"While we will review the ruling and discuss next steps with the Office of General Counsel, Mayor Brown is focused on resolving the City's pension challenges."
The statement added that the mayor will continue to work closely with the Retirement Task Force and City Council to achieve a comprehensive retirement reform solution for taxpayers and city employees.
WJXT's lawyer, Ed Birk, says pension could continue if the federal court waives the confidentiality rule, but if the federal court doesn't waive the confidentiality rule and orders mediation to take place, there would be a big risk that any agreement reached would be void.
Judge Wallace reserved jurisdiction of the case to determine whether the city is liable for the Times-Union's attorney's fees.