By Jennifer Portman, Democrat senior writer
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation was ordered last month to pay a Collier County couple $6,720 in legal and other fees for failing to provide records as required by the state’s open records law.
Chief Circuit Judge Charles A. Francis ordered DBPR to cover expenses incurred by Timothy and Regina Dayton in their effort to obtain records related to the settlement of administrative charges against city inspectors who worked on their Marco Island home.
In his order, Francis wrote, the agency failed to deliver settlement proposals specifically requested by the Daytons until they filed a lawsuit. The case was transferred from Collier to Leon County because DBPR is based in Tallahassee. DBPR said a department attorney misunderstood database storage capabilities, but Francis dismissed that argument as “unacceptable.” Even after the agency was made aware the documents existed, Francis said DPBR failed to provide them as required under law and when challenged attempted to “justify the nondisclosure on attorney-work product privilege.”
“When pursued further by counsel,” he added, “DBPR simply did not respond until after this action was initiated.” DBPR Director of Communications Tajiana Ancora-Brown said the agency receives dozens of public records requests each day and called the Dayton case “an anomaly.”
The agency last faced a public-records-related law suit in 2010, which it settled the following year by paying about $9,600 to cover legal expenses. She said DBPR’s Office of Open Government has made significant improvements to make it easier for the public to get records, including a new online system.
“The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation recognizes it is held to the highest of standards to serve the people of Florida and its obligation to provide public records,” Ancora-Brown said in an email.