Officials schedule private meeting for SWFL water crisis

Reporter: Lauren Sweeney
Published: Updated:
FILE Photo of toxic algae from summer 2018. Credit: WINK News.

Federal, state and local legislators are coming together in Southwest Florida to fight the water crisis, but you’re not invited.

Congressman Francis Rooney is hosting a roundtable discussion at Florida Gulf Coast University on Tuesday.

Among the attendees: scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and the NOAA’s National Central for Coast Ocean Science, the leaders of Florida DEP and Department of Economic Opportunity and a who’s who of local elected leaders.

“We are bringing various federal, state and local agencies and entities together to share the best practices and discuss how to best deal with the adverse impacts of harmful algae blooms,” wrote Rooney in an emailed statement.

The email further explained the event is not open to the public or the media because it is intended to help agencies meet face-to-face to form relationships.

“To obtain the participants we have, the forum must be private and technically oriented,” wrote Rooney.

The Congressman’s communications director Chris Berardi also wrote in a separate email that the office thoroughly researched the legality of the private discussion.

“While the Sunshine law may also apply “to meetings of ‘two or more members’ of the same board or commission when discussing some matter, which foreseeably will come before the board or commission,” based on the list of attendees below, however, it does not appear that any two attendees serve on the same board or commission and therefore the law would not apply,” the email stated.

There is a press conference following the roundtable. WINK News is considering legal action to try to have the roundtable opened to members of the public.

WINK News reached out to the entire list of confirmed attendees to find out if any had objections with the public or media being present.

Below is the response from each attendee:


  • Environmental Protection Agency Acting Regional Administrator for Region 4 Mary Walker

We appreciate being invited to the meeting, because the adverse impacts of harmful algae blooms are a relevant and important subject in communities in Florida.

  • Senior Scientist and Environmental Epidemiologist at the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Lorraine Backer

No Response

  • Program Manager of the Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) Program and the Prevention, Control, and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms (PCM HAB) Program within NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) Dr. Quay Dortch

Dr. Quay Dortch was invited by Representative Rooney’s office to participate in the harmful algae bloom (HAB) roundtable to represent her decades of scientific expertise on the topic. NOAA has no comment on the format of the meeting,” Brady Phillips, NOAA press office.


  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein

The event is hosted by Congressman Rooney’s office – please direct questions regarding the logistics to them,” Mara Gambineri, Director of Communications.

  • Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Director Ken Lawson

This event is hosted by Congressman Rooney’s office. Please contact them for information about the event,” Tiffany Vause, spokesperson, Department of Economic Opportunity.

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• Dr. Mike Martin – President

“Dr. Martin plans to stop in to say hello to Congressman Rooney but he has another commitment and thus won’t be staying for the meeting. The president notes we are providing meeting space in response to a request from Congressman Rooney, and the particulars of the meeting are his to determine” – Susan Evans, Vice President and Chief of Staff, FGCU.

• Dr. Parsons – Professor of Marine Science at Florida Gulf Coast University and Director of the Coastal Watershed Institute and Vester Field Station

Did not respond

Lee Health:

• Dr. Larry Antonucci – CEO

• Dr. Ashraf Khan – System Director of Epidemiology/Infection Control

• Dr. MaryBeth Saunders – System Medical Director of Epidemiology and Infection Control

We have no objections to the public,” Johnathan Little, Lee Health communications.

Collier County Government:

• Commissioner Penny Taylor

Commissioner Taylor has stated that this is not her meeting and she cannot answer the questions as to why the public and the press are not invited to the roundtable. She therefore has no comment,” Sherry Greco, executive coordinator for Commissioner Taylor.

• Dr. George Yilmaz, Department Head, Public Utilities

Did not respond

City of Cape Coral:

• Mayor Joe Coviello

• John Szerlag – City Manager

The Mayor and City Manager will be attending this event as guests of Congressman Rooney’s. The round table was organized by Congressman Rooney and his staff,” Maureen Buice, City of Cape Coral spokesperson.

Lee County Government:

  • Have not confirmed which representative will attend

Did not respond

City of Sanibel:

• Mayor Kevin Ruane

• James Evans – Director of Natural Resources

Did not respond

Town of Fort Myers Beach:

• Mayor Anita Cereceda

This is not my meeting to organize or make decisions about and so I am leaving this entirely up to Mr. Rooney. Just as a FYI for you, there will not be multiple members of our board attending so as to avoid any appearance of Sunshine violation.

• Roger Hernstadt – City Manager

Did not respond

City of Fort Myers:

• Mayor Randy Henderson

• Saeed Kazemi – City Manager

Did not respond

City of Bonita Springs:

• Mayor Peter Simmons

• Matt Feeney – Assistant City Manager

Did not respond

Village of Estero:

• Mayor Bill Ribble

• Steven Sarkozy – Village Manager

Did not respond

City of Naples:

• Council Member Reg Buxton

Did not respond

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