MANATEE — Manatee Community College President Lars Hafner said Wednesday that he abided by the Sunshine Law and stands by the way the institution’s name has been changed to the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota.
The college’s new name did not hit the right chord with some community members and has raised questions as to whether the name change, decided within a month of the college’s approval to offer a four-year nursing degree, was lawful.
Hafner said the name change had been discussed at various commmunity meetings and forums he has attended since the college started talking about offering the four-year degree.
“The community had their say when we moved forward with baccalaureate and BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree,” he said.
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The college’s board of trustees and Hafner had to get the new name in because the college plans to roll out the program by next January, he said.
To enroll students in the program, the name of the college has to reflect its new status — an institution that offers the four-year degree, he said.
“Students who are going to enroll in the baccalaureate program would not enroll in an institution if it has a community college as a name,” he said.
The new name needed to be codified by state lawmakers before the legislative session is over, and a bill in Tallahassee could potentially make it harder for the college to change its name if officials decided to wait, he said.
Since the state board of education approved the nursing degree on March 17, the college’s board of trustees approved the name change on April 15.
Discussion about the name change was not recorded in the minutes of the board’s March 25 meeting because it was not an official item. But Hafner said a board member directed him to research the matter and return to the April meeting with recommendations.
In that meeting, Hafner and his staff showed board members the college’s new logo and mascot.
Experts on the Sunshine Law have said the agenda for the April meeting did not clearly reflect that the name change would be discussed.
“We have done everything according to the statute,” Hafner said. “We have done transparently, and according to the statutes and to the community college’s policies.”
Alexis Lambert, a deputy general counsel who specializes in the Sunshine and public records law at the Florida attorney generals office, said college officials did not violate the black letter of the law. But college officials could have done a better job notifying the public of the discussion.
“There’s case law showing the court rejected specific notice requirements because they didn’t want to preclude members of the public from bringing up issues at the public meeting,” she said.
“Many times over last 30 years, we have advised postponing taking action on controversial issues or issues of critical concern until those issues have been properly noticed.”