At least six media organizations plan to file a legal brief in support of Brevard County Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis in his court action aimed at assuring that records of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast are public.
“This is a very important case,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, who is helping organize the effort. “It’s got statewide implications.”
In March, Circuit Court Judge John Moxley Jr. sided with Ellis, ruling that, because of the EDC’s role as Brevard County’s economic-development agency, “any records generated in carrying out those duties are public records subject to inspection.” The EDC is appealing the ruling to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.
Peterson said other groups planning to join the “friend of the courts” brief supporting Ellis include The Associated Press, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, the Florida Press Association, the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors and The Lakeland Ledger.
Tyler Winik, deputy Brevard County clerk for legal affairs and special projects, said the media organizations’ support of the Clerk of Courts Office on this issue is significant.
Noting that the EDC receives $1.4 million a year from the county as part of its budget, Winik said: “They receive public money to do a public function. Their records need to be open to the public.”
Last week, the Brevard County Commission voted to support the EDC in its legal challenge to Moxley’s ruling that opens up most records of the EDC to public scrutiny.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to authorize County Attorney Scott Knox to file a “friend of the court” brief supporting the EDC. Commissioner Trudie Infantini opposed the move.
The majority of the county commissioners felt that Moxley’s ruling could damage the EDC’s efforts to attract companies and jobs to the region, because companies would fear that confidentiality would be compromised if they dealt with the EDC.
Lynda Weatherman, the EDC’s president and chief executive officer, told county commissioners that the case could have negative statewide implications if Moxley’s ruling is upheld, by hurting efforts by economic-development agencies to attract companies and jobs to the state.
Ellis said Moxley’s ruling would not have the consequences that the EDC and its supporters fear. Ellis said confidential information would remain confidential under existing state law.