Public records fight: Mayor’s office whited out calendar

Mayor Andrew Gillum (Photo: Joe Rondone, Tallahassee Democrat)

Tallahassee Democrat by Jeffrey Schweers

August 4, 2017

A 33-file email dump from Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s office this week was the result of legal pressure from the Tallahassee Democrat over previously withheld information the City Attorney claimed was personal and therefore exempt from the state’s public records law.

Concerned that such an interpretation could give officials wide latitude to delete almost anything under the guise of not being city business, the Democrat hired a First Amendment lawyer to negotiate the release of the redacted records.

One of the just released items that had been redacted includes a dinner date with people named in two FBI subpoenas seeking information on the business dealings of the Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency and the city’s lobbyist.

Another redacted event was for tapas and drinks with two people believed to be part of the investigation who spent two years in town posing as potential developers.

The files were emailed Thursday to the Democrat and other media outlets from the Mayor’s office, bypassing the city’s public records office and the usual protocol of only releasing public records to the people or entities that ask for them.

The city had originally redacted and altered appointments, travel and other entries when it fulfilled a public records request made by the Democrat for emails going back to Jan. 1, 2016, containing certain words and phrases.

The information received in May show dozens of calendar entries and entire dates clearly whited out without explanation.

“Calendar entries concerning an employee’s private/personal matters even if on a government calendar are not the subject of an exemption; they are simply not public records as defined by Chapter 119,” Deputy City Attorney Cassandra Jackson wrote in an email to the city’s public records officer on July 20 in response to a query from the Democrat.

“If the Mayor’s calendar is his ‘official’ calendar, then the whole thing is a public record and there’s no general exemption for personal information contained in a public record,” First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said in an email to the Democrat. “The calendar is the public record; the entries are information contained in the public record and can be redacted only if there’s a specific statutory exemption.” [READ MORE]

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