The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is a public agency funded by taxpayer dollars, and members of the public are legally entitled to request as many public records as they want. Yet the PSTA has started listing on its website the name of every person who makes a public records request. CEO Brad Miller bragged in a news release that this makes the agency more transparent. That’s not transparency; that’s intimidation.
A PSTA spokesman says listing the names of those requesting public records, from reporters to members of the public, lets taxpayers know how many requests for records the agency juggles. He estimates 90 percent of some 350 requests for records since January came from five people. State law sets no limit on public records requests, and it does not matter if opponents of the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum are making so many requests. The public is legally entitled to request the PSTA’s public records, and the agency is required to produce those records within a reasonable time. In fact, anyone who requests public records in Florida cannot be required to identify themselves or say why they want the records.
The First Amendment Foundation, which promotes open government, refused to endorse this thinly veiled attempt by the PSTA to make its critics uncomfortable (Full disclosure: Times editor of editorials Tim Nickens is a foundation board member.) If the PSTA were genuine in its efforts to be more open, it would post more documents on its website rather than list the names of those seeking its records. The PSTA spokesman says that is the goal, but this is another example of the transit agency saying one thing and doing another.