98 people joining Gov. DeSantis and Cabinet on Israel trip starting Saturday – here are the details

By: - May 22, 2019 12:32 pm

Jerusalem’s Old City. Credit: Shmuel Spiegelman, Wikimedia Commons

Update: DeSantis communications director Helen Aguirre Ferré has issued the following statement regarding travel expenses: “All co-chairs, business, academia, religious leaders, legislators, and members of Miami consular corps are paying their own way.” That would leave the taxpayers covering costs for 24 state officials, including the governor and Cabinet.

Three days before takeoff, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office released details Wednesday about his trip with the Cabinet to Israel – including the agenda for the planned Florida Cabinet meeting and the names of the 98 people who will join the travel party.

The governor’s office still did not release information about what the trip will cost taxpayers or who, exactly, is paying for what.

The list includes a who’s who of Florida’s business elite, including lobbyists, Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson, Florida Power & Light Co. President and CEO Eric Silagy, and Florida Realtors President Eric Sain and CEO Margy Grant. Not only will the tourism, legal, and lobbying establishments be represented – so will academia and the state’s Jewish religious leadership. Plus the Israeli Consul General in Miami, Lior Haiat.

A news release from the governor’s office identifies members of the “business development mission leadership and delegation co-chairs,” who include political, business, and philanthropic leaders. They include former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, now with the Becker Law Firm, and individuals active in Jewish and Zionist causes.

Six members of the Legislature will go: Sens. Wilton Simpson and Lauren Book; and Reps. Randy Fine, Chip LaMarca, and Joseph Geller. Book and Geller are Democrats; the others, Republicans. So will Broward County Mayor Marc Bogen and Bal Harbour Mayor Gabriel Groisman.

The agenda asserts that the meeting at the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem will be ceremonial, after all – and not formal, as officials had indicated would be case. There’s no time set aside for deliberations about the many state functions the governor and Cabinet oversee, including investments, public lands, wildlife protection, and law enforcement.

“This agenda does not involve the composition of any collegial body consisting of the governor and Cabinet as a board, commission, or otherwise,” says a disclaimer tucked away at the bottom of the page.

Otherwise, the agenda includes an invocation, the Pledge of Allegiance, a discussion of the Florida-Israel relationship, and presentations involving “victims of terrorism,” water quality, and emergency management.

“Our delegation includes professionals and experts from a wide range of policy and business areas, representing every corner of our state,” DeSantis, who promised during his campaign last fall to travel to the Holy Land once in office, said in a written statement.

“During this trip, we will affirm Florida as the most pro-Israel state in the nation and strengthen the bond between Florida and Israel for decades to come,” he continued.

Florida news organizations, including the Florida Phoenix, have been seeking information about what the governor and Cabinet members would do – and who would foot the bill – during their sojourn in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which kicks off Saturday and ends on May 31. The Phoenix filed a public records request a month ago but has received no documents that would tell taxpayers what the cost is.

The governor’s office also has remained largely silent about whether the Cabinet meeting would be legal under the state’s Sunshine Law. The office did release a bare-bones itinerary on May 8 outlining a succession of business development meetings and receptions.

Barbara Petersen, director of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, said any meetings where public business is discussed must be open and noticed to the public.

She said the disclaimer about the Cabinet meeting — “This agenda does not involve the composition of any collegial body consisting of the governor and Cabinet as a board, commission, or otherwise” – is “nonsensical and meaningless.”

“Public business is being discussed by the Florida Cabinet,” she said. “Massive numbers of Floridians are interested in hearing what the Cabinet has to say about the topics on the agenda. If the meeting is for discussion purposes only, then the public doesn’t have a right to speak, but they do have a right to attend. Given that it’s a Cabinet meeting, it can be video or webcast, but the right to attend must be meaningful.”

Provisions are being made to broadcast the meeting via a television hookup, but Petersen noted the seven-hour time difference between Tallahassee and Jerusalem – and that the agenda doesn’t give the meeting’s start time.

“I get back to the same question: Why are they holding a Cabinet meeting in Israel? This isn’t any sort of emergency situation, and there’s a Cabinet meeting scheduled shortly after their return,” she said.

Aides to the governor, including chief of staff Shane Strum, communications director Helen Aguirre Ferré, and external affairs director Justin Caporale, will make the trip, as will aides to Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. Enterprise Florida, Space Florida, and Visit Florida will be represented – as will the Division of Emergency Management and Department of Environmental Regulation.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.