Satellite Beach, FL - It was a meeting that wasn’t a meeting, according to the City of Satellite Beach, and it is now the subject of several lawsuits. The city is responding by lawyering up and trying to dig their heels in.
Cell phone video shows police officers blocking residents of Satellite Beach from going into a meeting at City Hall back in September. City officials were inside talking with a water expert -- a member of environmental activist Erin Brokovich’s team -- about the health concerns in the community.
The expert was going to give his assessment of the situation as residents have raised their voices about chemicals in the water and old military hardware buried in the ground -- the very things they believe are making them sick. Indeed, hundreds have fallen ill spanning decades.
The residents are still furious they were not allowed into the meeting, and they have filed lawsuits against the city and council members, saying the closed-door session violated Florida's Sunshine laws.
"There were like three police officers there, and I don’t know if that was totally necessary. It was somewhat intimidating," said Dale Abrahams.
Abrahams was at the city hall that night and says she was confused and annoyed because there were announcements on the city website about the session. She wanted to hear from the Brokovich consultant but never got to enter the room.
"They did advertise it as a public meeting, then at the last minute, closed doors," Abrahams said.
In court filings, the city contends what was happening that night was not a meeting, but a workshop and the council was never fully assembled at one time. The city attorney is defending the city government in the proceedings, but another lawyer has been contracted to defend the council members as individuals.
Citing the pending litigation, attorneys declined to comment., but court filings show the city has filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the claim.
"I think there is a lack of transparency," Abrahams said.
A few nights after the event in question, Erin Brokovich herself was in town and the public got to engage with her. However, the citizens in this battle say it doesn’t matter. They say both her event and her expert’s session earlier that week should have been in the public view.