State Rep. Neil Combee filed a House companion bill to legislation that was filed more than a month ago by state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, which would exempt from public records laws the names of applicants for top administrative posts in Florida’s university or state college systems.
The Senate bill (SB 182) and Combee’s legislation (HB 223) would remove any personal identifying information about applicants and would allow closed-door interviews of the applicants for president, provost or dean at a state-supported institution of higher learning.
The information about the winning applicant would become public when the selection is announced, but perhaps not the names of those who applied and were not chosen, public records supporters said.
Combee said he decided to sponsor the bill in the Florida House because Hays is so convinced it will improve the quality of applicants in the state’s universities and colleges.
Currently, the names of applicants for public-sector jobs must be given to the public under Florida’s landmark Government in the Sunshine Law.
The public records requirement “prevents and shrinks the pool of people applying for a post if they know that tomorrow morning their board will read they are applying for another job,” he said.
“Also, when it is known they are applying for another job, they are risking the goodwill of the current employer. Their luster might come off back home if made public,” Combee said.
Public records advocates disagree over the necessity of the bill and argue its passage could erode other areas of the state’s Government in the Sunshine.
“That is the Mount Everest of slippery slopes,” Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said of the bill. “If their justifications for exempting are solid,” Petersen said, “then wouldn’t the same be true for hiring county managers, school superintendents, municipal administrators? So we just close down public participation in the process.
“They don’t have any substantial evidence that we are losing qualified candidates because of the fear of the public record,” she said.
Petersen said that had the law been in effect during the recent selection of a president for Florida State University, the general public would have seen only one name on the list — that of former state Sen. John Thrasher, who was selected as president of the institution.
“We wouldn’t have known what a mess that whole selection process had become and the fact that the board fired its facilitator when he said interview and decide on Thatcher first before going ahead with the other interviews. In fact, Thrasher had not even applied when he suggested that,” she said.
“Nobody ever said that democracy isn’t messy, but these are huge universities that take a lot of our tax money, and we should know what is being done with it,” Petersen said.
CHANGES IN ROSS’ STAFF
U.S. Rep Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, entering a new session of Congress, has made new position appointments and promotions to his staff.
Ross is a senior deputy majority whip and a member of the House Committee on Financial Services. Wednesday he announced the promotion of legislative aide Kyle Glenn to deputy chief of staff.
Glenn took a leave of absence from congressional duties last year to manage Ross’ successful re-election campaign here.
Stephen Gately has been hired as Ross’ new Lakeland field representative. He will be Ross’ top representative in the 15th Congressional District, which includes portions of Polk and Hillsborough counties. Gately comes from the office of state Rep. Mike LaRosa, R-St. Cloud, where he was involved with constituent services.
Coming in as Glenn’s replacement is Tim Cummings, who will be Ross’ legislative analyst in Washington.