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 in a case involving Economic Development Commission documents, 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.
Petersen said other groups planning to join the “friend of the court” 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.
Last week, the Brevard County Commission voted to support the EDC in its legal challenge to Moxley’s ruling that opens up most EDC records 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.
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.
“Those public/private organizations are given a tremendous amount of public tax dollars to do economic development all over the state,” Petersen said. “And they are claiming to be not subject to open government. The public needs to know: What are they doing with their money, and how are they doing it?”
As the county’s main economic-development organization, the EDC receives $1.4 million a year from Brevard County as part of its budget.
Petersen said she received a request from the Clerk of Courts Office to support Ellis’ side in this issue, and her organization’s litigation committee agreed. Petersen then sought support from other media groups last week at a convention of Florida media organizations. She said other media groups are likely to join the planned friend of the court brief in the coming weeks.