Did Two Miami Lakes Councilmen Violate The Sunshine Law Via Facebook?

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Miami Lakes Councilman Nelson Hernandez
Like any social-media-savvy politician, Miami Lakes Councilman Nelson Hernandez uses Facebook to correspond with his constituents. "This is the 21st Century," Hernandez says. "Why wouldn't I use a great communication tool to get my message across?"

But a town resident accuses Hernandez and Councilman Richard Pulido of using Facebook as a way to get around the state's Sunshine Laws, which prohibit politicians from the same elected body to talk to one another about a matter they will be voting on.

"I truly believe they violated the Sunshine," says Robin Beamon, a Miami-Dade parks employee who has lived in Miami Lakes for seven years. Beamon has asked state public corruption prosecutor Joe Centorino to investigate Hernandez and Pulido. "If they didn't do anything illegal, then I want someone in a position of authority to tell me that's the case," Beamon says. Hernandez denies the accusation. "I know I didn't break the law," he says. Pulido did not return phone calls seeking comment. Centorino could not be reached.

A week before the town council's May 10 regular meeting, Hernandez posted a message on his personal Facebook page asking the 866 people, including Pulido, in his "friends network" to contact Councilwoman Mary Collins so she would support his measure to prohibit council members and the mayor from serving on citizen committees. Sunshine Laws bar him from lobbying fellow council members or using intermediaries to influence a colleague's vote.

Collins says no one called her, but she believes Hernandez was "skirting along the edge" of the Sunshine Law, and she let him know so at the council meeting. "I felt it was inappropriate," Collins says. "What he did was not a good thing to do."

During the meeting, Pulido admitted that prior to the vote, he posted on Hernandez's Facebook page a comment stating he supported the committee prohibition, which gives credence to Beamon's contention that the two council members colluded before the vote.

Hernandez disagrees. "I didn't coerce anyone to pressure Mary Collins," he says. "Using Facebook is a way to communicate with the people. That's what I use it for."

Robin Beamon's complaint letter: Robin Brown

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3 comments
BC
BC

This is a silly issue. The purpose of theFlorida Sunshine Law is to create transparency and ensure that governmentbusiness is not conducted in secret – to bring government into the sunshine.What could be more public and transparent than a Facebook post? And Hernandez's866 friends far exceed the number of people who would attend a city councilmeeting at which a councilman can attempt to influence his colleagues to hisheart’s content.

 

It certainly did not violate the intentof the law. I only wish all interactions between elected officials wereconducted via Facebook.

 

Also, the ordinance for which he was advocating–prohibiting city council members and the mayor from serving on citizencommittees – is a good government law that deserves to be enacted.

Lilly Chiu
Lilly Chiu

I completely agree. Thank you Robin Beaman.  This is a violation of the Sunshine Law, and this and several other companies and public officials are using social media to skirt around the Sunshine Law.  It is unconscionable that this issue hasn't been addressed with hundreds of millions of Facebook and Twitter users. Recently at FIU an architectural firm created a Twitter Account, named it "FIU Parkview"  described it as being FIU Parkview housing and pretended to be FIU (for 60 DAYS) talking to students, staff, selection committee members and administrators. FIU Director of Social Media advised legal and facilities planning and it was dismissed.  On the contrary these are blatant attempts to violate the rule and intent of the Sunshine Laws. This firm was awarded the FIU Parkview Housing project and not so much as reprimanded.  It's time to address this issue before it gets worse.

Thatstoobad
Thatstoobad

I'm not sure I agree with you, BC.  866 friends far exceeding the number of residents that would attend a town hall meeting is not the best way to defend this violation.  Facebook is a wonderful tool, but it should not be used to encourage your friends to lobby a fellow councilman or councilwoman.  It should also not be used to run polls!  Mr. Hernandez had a poll on his page and then he attempted to use the results to make his case at the council meeting.  Is he serious?  That is not a scientific poll!  And for the record, 123 votes on an online poll (limited to his friends alone) out of 30,000 residents is not an accurate representation of the residents of the town of Miami Lakes.  Come on...I couldn't believe he tried to defend the data! Setting my position aside, he sure as hell did not articulate his position well nor did he provide testimony or evidence defending his position.  Like him or not, the Mayor was right when he said, "If committee members feel intimidated, then why isn't there is a single committee chairperson present? Why isn't there a single person speaking in defense of your requested change?"  The Mayor was right! 100% correct.  Councilman Hernandez just fumbled all over the place.  His immaturity was evident.  This just reminded me of his attempt to accept the nomination for Vice Mayor and how he argued with Councilwoman Collins that he knew how to run a meeting.  He has no loyalty and cannot articulate his position.  His ego repeatedly gets in the way of his ability to reason and his relationship with Pulido will cause him severe headaches with his Republican party.  This guy has no loyalty and who ever runs against him will capitalize on his flip-flopping and association with a liberal Democrat in a primarily Republican town!

As far as the ordinance is concerned, Councilman Hernandez fumbled all over the place and then he argued that in order to reduce the intimidation factor, the council members should not be given a vote on the committees.  So a vote is going to eliminate the sense of intimidation? It just made no sense!!  Maybe he should have nominated some folks to the committees.  After all that complaining, he still hasn't submitted a single nomination.  If Councilman Hernandez was so concerned about resident representation at the committee meetings, then he should have told the mayor, "You know what Mr. Mayor?  You are absolutely correct.  You will have a list of recommended residents by end of week!"  And he should have delivered on it!  The fact is he didn't!  He needs to think before he pulls this kind of move and he better be prepared and know how to articulate his position. 

Here is the video of that day when Pulido nominated Hernandez.  Hernandez needs a lesson on loyalty and on how to articulate his position.  He said he would offer his services to the council and to the town...at the expense of relationships with people who have always helped him.  That's too bad.  They just said you should wait a little while! 

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