Pensacola News Journal by David Dunn-Rankin
October 2, 2014
A local sheriff refuses to give you access to public records. Who are you going to call?
The city is willing to give you the public records you requested, but it wants to charge you an exorbitant amount of money for the privilege. Who are you going to call?
In Florida, you call the Florida First Amendment Foundation.
Just a single letter from the Florida First Amendment Foundation to a wayward politician can yield results.
“Ms. Sandy Matkivich has contacted the First Amendment Foundation expressing concerns regarding the city of West Palm Beach’s failure to comply with her public records request. … We respectfully suggest that the city of West Palm Beach expeditiously facilitate access to the public records requested by Ms. Matkivich. … The continued delay in producing these records is unacceptable and unreasonable and is depriving Ms. Matkivich of her constitutional right of access to what clearly are public records.”
The city of West Palm Beach did indeed provide Ms. Matkivich the information she requested, responding “We are immediately providing … we regret any inconvenience caused to Ms. Matkivich.”
Florida’s First Amendment Foundation answers more than 150 hotline calls each month regarding open and transparent government in Florida. The First Amendment Foundation is considered the authority on Florida’s open government laws and almost all Florida legislators consult FAF when drafting a bill that will affect Florida’s open records or Sunshine laws.
They also train hundreds of people per year across the state of Florida, including government officials and employees, the media and the general public regarding the open government rules. The foundation is respected by all concerned.
FAF participates in open-government litigation throughout the state, either by joining important open-government cases or filing friend of the court briefs. They are quite busy filing friend of the court briefs to help keep Florida’s politicians open to public scrutiny.
“It has come to our attention that Ms. Barbara Jeffords made a public records request for information in the personnel file of the hospital authority’s executive director … the board provided Ms. Jeffords with the first two pages but excluded the third and fourth pages claiming the federal law exempts the law from disclosure.”
After restating the facts, the Jeffords letter from the First Amendment Foundation argued the law concluding the letter with, “It is our position that your failure to disclose … is founded on a misreading of the Federal Statute and is not grounded in law.”
After the letter from the First Amendment Foundation, the Hospital Authority paid an outside law firm for an opinion on whether the authority had violated the law. Strangely, the Hospital Authority did not disclose the co
ntents to the public, indicating that the outside attorney likely agreed with the First Amendment Foundation.
This crucial organization is voluntarily funded by most of the daily newspapers in the state, including this one. We do so, not because it helps our bottom line, but because strongly supporting open government is part of our long-term mission as community newspapers.
This institution is a Florida treasure — quietly, effectively helping Florida be a model of open government. [READ MORE]
David Dunn-Rankin is president and publisher of the Charlotte Sun.
The First Amendment Foundation welcomes individual interest, inquiries and support. For more information, contact the foundation at Info@floridafaf.org or visit their website, www.floridafaf.org. Their hotline number is (800) 337-3518.