Tallahassee Democrat by Bill Cotterell
May 1, 2021
We in the news media tend to treat every proposed exemption from Florida’s open-meetings and public-records laws with a skepticism bordering on hostility, even contempt.
Some information in the hands of government, some proceedings involving public officials, must be secret for obvious reasons of public safety and security. Still, news outlets will take cases to court whenever a public document is withheld or a meeting is closed, unless there is a specific statutory authorization for such secrecy. If we didn’t, they’d probably close Cabinet meetings and legislative sessions some day.
We’re as uncompromising on the First Amendment as the National Rifle Association is on the Second. But while elected officials will go to extremes to mollify the NRA, they’re not so skittish about infringing on the state’s vaunted “Government in the Sunshine” law.
In fact, sometimes their attitude seems to be that people can have any public information they’re willing to sue to obtain.
So it was good to see the failure of a bill that would have allowed executive search committees to hide the names of people applying for the presidency of state colleges and universities. The House passed the exemption in mid-April by 101-16 vote but it failed 25-14 in the Senate — just one vote short of the two-thirds majority it needed.
At least 14 new exemptions were enacted in the past session and eight old ones were renewed. Maybe some were worse than others, but the won-loss bottom line shows what legislators think of open government.
That’s discouraging. It means most legislators are just dandy with secrecy for lists of applicants wanting to be college or university presidents. Under the failed bill (HB 997/SB 220), names of finalists for a campus presidency would have become public three weeks before a final selection vote would have been scheduled.