Businessmans Lawsuit Alleges Sunshine Law Violation
Written by Charlotte Libov on February 23, 2006
By Charlotte Libov
A lawsuit challenging Miami-Dade County’s decision to open non-aviation development at Opa-locka Airport was filed last week in 11th Circuit District Court.
Stephen O’Neal of Blueside Services Inc. filed the suit against the Opa-locka Airport Development Task Force and Miami-Dade County, alleging that the task force violated the state’s Sunshine Law by holding an illegal meeting before its first announced meeting in May.
Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who recommended the task force, said she could not comment on the suit. "I’m just hearing about it for the first time. I’ll need to look into it," she said.
The commissioners created the task force in March and charged it with looking into ways to develop the airport, which has one of the longest runways in the US.
The suit seeks to overturn the commission’s adoption of an ordinance Feb. 7 that would allow expanded non-aviation uses of the airport, enabling the construction of retail stores, offices and manufacturing facilities. The commission unanimously adopted the ordinance, citing the task force’s recommendation.
Mr. O’Neal said he is seeking to have the ordinance overturned. "Besides the fact that this has an appearance of being illegal, my concern is that it spells the beginning of the end of general aviation at Opa-locka Airport," he said.
He said the ordinance would not affect his business, which specializes in the teardown of airplanes, but he is concerned that it would make the land too tempting to developers and squeeze out small aeronautical companies.
In the seven-page suit, Mr. O’Neal references a discussion during the task force’s first meeting. "At the May 12 meeting of the task force, certain members of the task force specifically discussed a previously held meeting of the task force," the suit states. It cites a discussion in which an unidentified task force member said to then-Miami-Dade County aviation director Carlos Bonzon, "we were sort of having a meeting before the meeting, and there was some discussion of some activities that were going on probably during your reign and during the 1980s."
According to the suit, that shows that "the members of the task force held a private meeting in advance of their May 12, 2005, meeting in violation of the Sunshine Law. … This unnoticed private meeting was not open to the public, and minutes of the prior meeting were not taken."
In August, Blueside Services and BMI Salvage, which also operated by Mr. O’Neal, filed an eight-count, 54-page economic-discrimination federal complaint against the county, alleging that the airport failed to comply with mandatory federal obligations and assurances in accepting improvement grants. That case has not been decided.