Broward News

Riviera Beach Accused of Violating Sunshine Law in Fight Over Marina

The plan to privatize a portion of Riviera Beach's public marina refuses to die.

Voters tried to kill it last November. They passed a referendum against a deal to lease the marina to a megayacht company. It was a victory for the little guys, those who wanted to save a rare, publicly owned swath of coastline near Peanut Island. Rybovich, the megayacht company, is owned by one of South Florida's most powerful families, the Huizengas. 

But the Riviera City Council wasn't satisfied with the people's vote. Some council members insist the cash-strapped city needs the money a redevelopment of the marina would bring. So earlier this month, at a closed-door meeting to discuss a related lawsuit, the council decided to put the issue back on the ballot this March.

One small problem: Politicians aren't supposed to vote in closed sessions. That's what the Florida Sunshine Law is designed to prevent -- backroom deals conducted without public scrutiny.

So wealthy Riviera activist Fane Lozman, who has long fought the megayacht deal, filed a suit in Palm Beach Circuit Court today alleging the council broke the law.

"The decision... was a mere 'rubberstamp' and in violation of the Sunshine Law," the suit contends.

A member of the council has already admitted the meeting was secret. As the Palm Beach Post reported:

"Councilman Shelby Lowe said the council members voted on whether to propose the ballot questions during a Jan. 10 closed-door meeting and that he cast the only vote against them."

But why would Florida elected officials -- even in a city as dysfunctional as Riviera -- brazenly break a basic tenant of the open records law?

Neither Lowe nor Riviera City Attorney Pamela Ryan immediately returned calls seeking comment. We'll update when/if they do.

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab