U.S. Congressman Francis Rooney held a closed-door meeting with federal, state and local agencies and community leaders at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute on Tuesday. The stated purpose of the meeting was to talk about the health impacts of harmful algae blooms.
At a news conference following the roundtable, not much information from that meeting was shared with the press.
About a dozen protesters held signs and chanted as people arrived for the much-publicized closed door meeting. Given that the Centers for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were meeting with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, U.S. Representative Francis Rooney, and a host of other local leaders; protesters like David Silverberg felt closing the meeting was a violation of the spirit of Florida’s sunshine law.
“If they close this meeting, which they are succeeding in doing with no legal basis, they are going to close other meetings in the future based on this precedent” Silverberg said.
At the news conference following the meeting, the first question leveled at Representative Francis Rooney was why the meeting was closed.
“The fact of the matter is, if we wanted the scientists and the technical people we couldn’t have the press- so I made the decision, and I’m glad to defend it,” Rooney said.
When asked what the Centers for Disease Control had to say about the health impacts of harmful Blue-Green Algae, he wouldn’t say.
“Well, obviously you know the meeting was off the record, and I don’t think it would be right for me to betray the confidence of either our local health officials or of the CDC people about what they talked about,” he said.
But he did say this meeting got national, state and local people in a room to talk about the most current scientific knowledge and how to keep people safe- a topic he said local mayors were most concerned about.
“How can we do a better job to speak to our people to allay their fears and warn them not to go into harm’s way,” he said.
Another meeting that’s open to the media is scheduled for this Friday at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Local conservation groups and clean water advocates will be part of that conversation.