Transparency is the new black. At least, that appears to be the case as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Florida’s public records law.
We at the Times vigorously support your right as our readers and the public’s right in general to know what our elected and appointed leaders are doing. We believe strongly that you should be able to check and see if your child’s teacher is qualified to teach. It is your right to know if your kid’s soccer coach has a domestic violence or drug abuse record.
You can know these things because of state statutes, dubbed “Government in the Sunshine” laws, which guarantee access to public records and meetings. We’re fortunate in Florida – the state has some of the most proactive public records and meeting laws in the country. These laws make it possible for you, the reader, and not just us journalsitic types, to know how government works and hold government leaders accountable.
There have been many changes and additions to Sunshine Law over the years, but the most notable, in my opinion, came in recent months. With all the new technology available, Sunshine Law had to be adapted to guide use of the Internet and other ways of communication. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist established a Commission on Open Government, and that commission immediately clamped down on these very areas. The commission has recommended that officials be banned from sending texts or instant messages during public meetings, and that local government require all public business conducted via Internet or e-mail on private computers be kept as public record.
Elected and appointed officials can twist these laws in their favor, so it is up to all of us to hold them accountable. I came here from a town in which a city employee twisted the laws around to prevent residents from obtaining public records. A law suit was the outcome and that official would up in court, defending those actions and faring poorly.
Much of the time, it falls to journalists to know Sunshine Law and uphold it. We face situations almost daily where we must rely on these laws in order to do our jobs.
But it is also your responsibility. Check out www.myfloridasunshine.com. Know what your rights are and stand firm.