NOVEMBER 24, 2008
Local governments and school districts throughout a state that prides itself on having among the nation’s best open records laws often violate public requests even though its Constitution requires access with minimal restrictions.
Cities, counties, school districts and sheriff departments throughout Florida regularly fail comply with the state’s renowned Sunshine Law, which guarantees every person the right to inspect or copy any public record and access to government proceedings at both the state and local levels. The Florida law is so sacred that Governor Charlie Crist created a special Office of Open Government to assure full and expeditious compliance in all cases.
But an audit conducted by the state’s Society of Newspaper Editors reveals that more than 43% of public offices fail to comply with the law. They include sheriff’s departments and school districts in rural and big counties alike as well as county administrative offices with employees that challenge requests because they are clueless about the law.
Dozens of volunteers—many undercover journalists—conducted public records requests at hundreds of universities, county offices, school districts and sheriff’s offices in one month. Many were brushed off or erroneously told that they had to speak to the superintendent, administrator or sheriff to obtain the information. Other cases were wrongfully delayed or ignored all together.
While these blatant violations may seem unusual in a state well known for its transparency laws, this sort of thing is rampant in the federal government which is notorious for blowing off or severely delaying public records requests. In fact, most government agencies routinely fail to disclose information requested under a 1967 law (Freedom of Information Act—FOIA), that gives people the power to request information from federal government files.
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