The Naples City Council is divided on a matter of public record.
Here’s the question: Should an elected official be required to pay for certain public record requests as citizens must do?
Two schools of thought played out again recently in a Naples City Council discussion of the issue that ended in a 4-3 vote. The council addressed the public records issue in one form or another in 2012, last year and again in mid-November.
One argument is that extensive requests from an elected official can confuse employees on priorities, considering the employees work for the city manager but there also are seven elected City Council members. There is a companion concern of an elected official meddling in daily operations of the government, when they are supposed to set policy for the city manager to carry forward.
A counterargument is that a leader was chosen by voters to address the needs of constituents, so the elected official should be exempt from paying for public records. In addressing citizen needs or in determining how to vote on a matter related to the budget, a council member dedicated to service may want answers to his or her own specific questions.
The Florida League of Cities tells us it hasn’t taken a position on the two-sided question, so the city can’t get guidance there.
Instead, we believe the council has reached a reasonable compromise — that in lieu of paying, an individual council member can discuss at a public meeting what records he or she wants if a request is going to take a city employee more than 30 minutes to handle. The individual council member can get at least four council votes to have the fees waived.
We agree with those who contend anything so extensive should be brought to the attention of the full council, to avoid having seven members going in different directions on setting city priorities. Technology is making it faster to process records, so that helps.
The majority’s rationale is supported by a city policy stating “investigations or inquiries, other than soliciting information, should be initiated following a decision of City Council and not an individual council member.”
The council majority’s compromise approach seems reasonable.
Should the full council begin routinely rejecting any individual member’s requests when these are brought forward at a public meeting, then it’s time for the issue to be readdressed. That can either be by the council in another discussion, or by voters who can assess whether the questioning member is being unfairly stifled or improperly meddling in daily operations.