From the Government in the Sunshine Law:
Fact-fi nding committees
A limited exception to the applicability of the Sunshine Law to advisory committees has
been recognized for advisory committees established for fact-fi nding only. “[A] committee is not subject to the Sunshine Law if the committee has only been delegated information-gathering or fact-fi nding authority and only conducts such activities.” Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government v. City of Sarasota, 48 So. 3d 755, 762 (Fla. 2010). See also National Council on Compensation Insurance v. Fee, 219 So. 3d 172 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017); and Cape Publications, Inc.v. City of Palm Bay, 473 So. 2d 222 (Fla. 5th DCA 1985). Accord AGO 95- 06 (when a group, on behalf of a public entity, functions solely as a fact-fi nder or information gatherer with no decision-making authority, no “board or commission” subject to the Sunshine Law is created). “In determining whether a committee is subject to the Sunshine Law, the actual function of the committee must be scrutinized to determine whether it is exercising part of the decisionmaking function by sorting through options and making recommendations to the governmental body.” Inf. Op. to Randolph, June 10, 2010. Th us, if an advisory committee has a decisionmaking function in addition to fact-fi nding, the Sunshine Law is applicable. See Wood v. Marston, 442 So. 2d 934, 938 (Fla. 1983), recognizing that while a “search and screen” committee had a fact-gathering role in soliciting and compiling applications, the committee also “had an equally undisputed decision-making function in screening the applicants” by deciding which of the applicants to reject from further consideration, and thus was subject to the Sunshine Law.
It is the nature of the act performed, not the makeup of the committee or the proximity of the act to the fi nal decision, which determines whether a committee composed of staff is subject to the Sunshine Law. Id. See News-Press Publishing Company, Inc. v. Carlson, 410 So. 2d 546, 548 (Fla. 2d DCA 1982), concluding that it would be “ludicrous” to hold that “a certain committee is governed by the Sunshine Law when it consists of members of the public, who are presumably acting for the public, but hold that a committee may escape the Sunshine Law if it consists of individuals who owe their allegiance to, and receive their salaries from, the governing authority;” and Evergreen the Tree Treasurers of Charlotte County, Inc. v. Charlotte County Board of County Commissioners, 810 So. 2d 526, 531-532 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002) (staff committee members delegated decision-making authority from public offi cials no longer function as staff members but “stand in the shoes of such public offi cials” insofar as the Sunshine Law is concerned).
Th us, in Silver Express Company v. District Board of Lower Tribunal Trustees, 691 So. 2d
1099 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997), the district court determined that a committee composed primarily
of staff that was created by a college purchasing director to assist and advise her in evaluating
contract proposals was subject to the Sunshine Law. Th e committee’s job to “weed through
the various proposals, to determine which were acceptable and to rank them accordingly” was
suffi cient to bring the committee within the scope of the Sunshine Law. See also Roscow v. Abreu, No. 03-CA-1833 (Fla. 2d Cir. Ct. August 6, 2004) (committee created by the state department of transportation and composed of offi cials from state, local, and federal agencies was subject to the Sunshine Law because the committee was responsible for screening and evaluating potential corridors and alignments for a possible expansion of the Suncoast Parkway); AGO 05-06 (city development review committee, composed of several city offi cials and representatives of various city departments to review and approve development applications, is subject to the Sunshine Law)