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Public Records Not Always Public

March 15th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

A controversial plan to stop the release of 911 calls is being dropped after a public outcry.  House Speaker Larry Cretul today said he would not push the legislation for a well connected constituent, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the decision comes as public records advocates celebrate the state’s tradition of openness.

Mounting pressure from the public and media against a plan to exempt 911 calls from public records has the powerful house speaker backing down.

“Oh, it’s gotten way out of hand,” House Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) said. “It’s gotten way too noisy. So don’t be surprised if we kind of slow that thing down or even not take it up this year.”

The 911 legislation is one of a dozen or more exemptions proposed each and every year. Barbara Peterson of the First Amendment Foundation says keeping records and meetings open is what democracy is all about.

“How are they doing it?  Why they’re doing it,” Peterson said. “How they’re spending our money. Where are they getting the money from?  What purpose are they using our money for?”

But records aren’t always easy to get. A security guard and a clerk at City Hall in Tallahassee tried to stop us from filming on camera, which made the point we came to make.

A year-old study shows that when the public requested records, the clerk on the other end didn’t know what to do about half the time.

In addition to not knowing what is public, many clerks ask too much. Michelle Bono says many governments make sure employees are trained.

“You don’t have to give us your name,” Michelle Bono with the City of Tallahassee said. “Just tell us what you want, give us the reasonable specificity.”

Legislation is pending that would require every elected and appointed officials to be trained in open government and public records law.

Yesterday was the start of Government in the Sunshine week, a celebration of transparency in the governmental process.

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