TALLAHASSEE — A long-promoted and legally contested meeting of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet in Jerusalem became a tech glitch-filled affair Wednesday for government aides and reporters watching the session from inside the state Capitol, more than 6,000 miles away.
Viewers of the Florida Channel were able to screen an uninterrupted livestream of the nearly 40-minute “ceremonial” meeting held at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
However, in the Cabinet meeting room in the Capitol — where members of the public gathered to watch DeSantis and the Cabinet members — the video went dark a few times, and the audio feed was often out of sync with the video.
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A prayer, performed in Tallahassee, was cut short when the phone connection between the Capitol and embassy went down, resulting in a four-minute blackout of the meeting for Cabinet-room participants and onlookers.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis completed the invocation in Jerusalem.
A few minutes later, the telephone conference restarted, interrupting Attorney General Ashley Moody as she praised what she was learning from Israelis.
After the pause, Moody drew laughter by quickly noting, “And they have excelled in technology in ways that we are learning from on a daily basis.”
The telephone conference was established to enable the public to address the Florida officials during the meeting, but nobody signed up to speak.
Wednesday’s meeting featured the reading of a previously signed resolution extolling the bond between Florida and Israel, along with a presentation from a woman whose husband was killed fighting a terrorist attack in an Israeli mall last year. The ceremonial session also included a discussion of Israel’s water-quality and emergency-management efforts.
“Because we’re in Jerusalem, we may actually get some interest in our Cabinet meetings for a change, which would be great,” DeSantis quipped, as the meeting got underway.
With the trip viewed by some critics as a Republican effort to build bonds with Jewish voters, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat, noted she is the first Jewish-American woman to serve on the Cabinet.
“This is a bi-partisan support for the state of Israel,” Fried said, as the resolution was discussed. “The state of Israel and the support from America and from Florida doesn’t see Republican, doesn’t see Democrat. We are here united for the support of Israel and we will stand firm behind the state.”
The meeting was part of an Israeli trade mission DeSantis is leading with a delegation of nearly 100 business leaders, lawmakers, state university officials and others. The trip concludes Thursday.
Efforts to halt the meeting were quashed when Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey on Tuesday dismissed a last-minute lawsuit brought by the First Amendment Foundation and four major news organizations that accused the governor and Cabinet members of “willfully violating the law” for trying to hold a Cabinet meeting about 6,000 miles from the state Capitol.
On Wednesday, the foundation’s emergency motion for reconsideration was also denied.
Addressing the media after a ceremonial bill signing Wednesday, Moody said the meeting complied with the state Sunshine Law.
DeSantis called the lawsuit “frivolous,” noting that the Cabinet previously has held meetings via phone, which the public was able to hear.
“Yet no one ever said that’s a problem,” the governor told reporters. “So how is livestreaming something, where everyone in the state can just log on and see it, how would that possibly be a problem? It’s not. I think people sometimes just want to cause a ruckus.”
But Barbara Petersen, an attorney and president of the First Amendment Foundation, said Wednesday that she and others would prefer that the Cabinet meetings take place in Florida.
“In moving forward, we have a couple of options which we’re in the process of sussing out and will have a plan on what action needs to be taken by early next week,” Petersen said. “Ideally, we would like the Cabinet to agree that it will not hold meetings outside the state of Florida. We’re trying now to figure out how we get there.”
The foundation was joined in the lawsuit by the Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times and the Gannett and GateHouse Media news organizations.
Under Florida’s Sunshine Law, the public must be given reasonable notice of the location, time and date as well as the issues that are set to be addressed and discussed at a public meeting.
The Sunshine Law also prohibits a public meeting from being held at a place that “operates in such a matter as to unreasonably restrict public access to such facility.”
The lawsuit pointed to this provision to argue that last-minute guidelines issued by the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem limited reporters’ and the public’s ability to use laptops and cell phones out of “security concerns.”
The Cabinet is scheduled to meet in Tallahassee on June 4, where DeSantis is slated to give an update on the trip.