I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Public Records Law: It's no Joke--Just ask Martin County.....

There are often huge monetary costs  associated with failure to comply with Florida's Open Record's Law.  Martin County just had to pay $371,800.00 in legal fees to partially settle a violation of the open records law...

People can be flip about requests.  Private citizens, in most instances, don't have to produce documents or anything else upon request by another private citizen unless there is a court order or a subpoena.

But public officials do not have the luxury of saying no.  Furthermore, they do not have the option of specifying arbitrary procedures after a request is made of them.  Heck, my understanding of the Florida public records law leads me to believe that a public official has to respond to a request to produce a document even if the request is made verbally.  If the request is made in writing and is not honored--there will be problems....

If a request is made of a public official and not fulfilled, there are penalties that can be enforced, to include monetary penalties and/or jail in some cases (look at the case of former Escambia County School Board Member Vanette Webb)

So I take any request made of me with deadly seriousness;  as a school board member I had to respond to many, many requests.  I filled them all, each and every one of them, as quickly and as thoroughly as humanly possible.  Thus far as a county commissioner I have responded to three records requests, and I complied quickly and thoroughly to each one.

Others locally are not as forthcoming and actually say no, or try to put conditions on how they will accept and when they will accept requests for information, or from whom they will accept requests...  They do so at their own peril, is all I will say....

Because I understand the law even though some that should, apparently do not understand the law

and that you can't purposely stymie access to public records if you are a public official by freelancing your own screening mechanisms and internal policies after you have received a legitimate request.

With all this said--some public officials down in Martin County sure got their bell rung recently for not taking public records requests seriously.  According to recent press reports in the Tampa Bay Times Buzz Blog:

"Circumventing Florida’s public records law, and destroying public documents, has cost Martin County commissioners more than $12 million -- and the toll keeps rising.The commission on Tuesday agreed to a $12 million payout to Lake Point, a rock quarry company that has plans to become a water company, sued the county for breach of contract and for violating the state’s Sunshine Law. .The agreement will put an end to a four-year legal dispute but not the end of the county’s woes. A grand jury is investigating allegations that at least one county commissioner destroyed records relating to the case, which could draw criminal penalties..The county agreed to paymore than $371,800 in attorneys’ fees at the time, and to establish a new policy for how to handle public business on private email accounts."

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