Volume 32, Number 1 i A monthly report of mass media law in Florida
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information U College of Journalism and Communications U University of Florida
Crist allows applicants seeking
clemency to view their reports
TALLAHASSEE Public testimony Commission on Open Government has
at the first meeting of the Commission on brought this issue to the forefront."
Open Government has prompted a change Gov. Crist appointed the Commission
in the rules regarding access to clemency on Open Government in June 2007 to
reports. review Florida's open government laws
Applicants appearing before the Board and make recommendations for changes.
of Executive Clemency are now able to During its first meeting in August 2007,
receive their case analysis reports. The two witnesses testified about the secrecy
reports contain a summary A C C E S surrounding the clemency
of the offense, criminal and A C C E SS process.
traffic history, background COR S Indian Harbor Beach
information on the applicant, RECORDS social worker Lynda
and the Parole Commission's Markham was one of the
recommendation to the Clemency Board. witnesses, according to a press release
The Parole Commission prepares from the Governor's office. "I would
the reports, which were previously like to propose the current clemency
confidential and provided only to information policies be modified to
members of the clemency board. Gov. include the release of all information
Charlie Crist, pursuant to a statute to an inmate's lawyer or professional
granting him the authority to release representative or to the inmate if he or
confidential information, announced that she is filing without representation,"
the reports will now be available to the Markham told the Commission on Open
applicant or representative prior to the Government. "I believe this modification
hearing date. would facilitate a much more fair and
"Individuals applying for clemency balanced outcome for all."
should have the same information Between 2000 and 2006, 1784 prison
available to them that decision makers inmates filed clemency applications. Only
on the Board of Executive Clemency 18 inmates were successful in receiving
have," Crist said. "I am thankful that the commuted sentences.
Water agency creates new office
for open government, ombuds
WEST PALM BEACH In an effort
to respond more effectively to the public,
the South Florida Water Management
District has streamlined its operations to
create an Office of Ombuds and Open
Government, combining the SFWMD's
public records, ombudsman and citizen
services functions into one main location.
The SFWMD's is the state's
largest water management agency. It
is responsible for overseeing water
resources in the southern half of the state,
from Orlando to the Keys.
"This new office is a part of the
District's effort to further the Governor's
priorities of open government and
customer service," said SFWMD
Governing Board Chairman Eric
Buermann, according to the Glades
Gov. Charlie Crist established his own
Office of Open Government a year ago.
The SFWMD processed approximately
1,000 public records requests in 2007. For
more information, visit www.mysfwmd.
limits data on
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -A federal
judge has ruled that the government
can withhold information about federal
employees from a Syracuse University
organization that tracks the data. U.S.
District Judge Norman Mordue held
that the privacy rights of the employees
and national security concerns justified
the government's decision to stop
releasing complete sets of data in 2003.
The Transactional Records Access
Clearinghouse (TRAC) has been
posting the names, salaries and
positions of 2.7 million federal civilian
workers since 1989. Journalists and
government watchdog groups often use
the data to monitor policies or detect
flaws in the system.
"It's a bad decision. It flies in
the face of 220 years of federal
history," said Reporters Committee
for Freedom of the Press Executive
Director Lucy Dalglish. "Who is
employed by the federal government
and what they make has never been
kept a secret in the country, unless
you're a covert operative. This is an
example of privacy interests running
amok," Dalglish said, according to The
Court papers indicated that the
U.S. Office of Personnel Management
(OPM) cited the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks and an increased vulnerability
of federal workers for withholding the
information. Since 2003, the OPM has
withheld information on all Department
of Defense civilian employees and
approximately 150,000 other civilian
The federal government began
releasing information about its
employees in 1816.
Judge allows media access to Jena 6 proceedings
NEW ORLEANS More than two
dozen media outlets prevailed in their
efforts seeking to open juvenile court
proceedings in the case of a black teenager
accused of beating a white classmate in
Jena, Louisiana, according to the Houston
Mychal Bell, 17, is one of six young
men charged in the incident at Jena High
School. Bell was tried as an adult and
convicted of aggravated battery, but that
conviction was vacated. Bell now faces a
new trial in juvenile court that the media
wants to observe.
State Judge J.P Mauffray Jr. is
presiding over the trial and agreed to open
the proceedings after the media sought
relief in court. Mauffray had disqualified
himself from the media lawsuit because he
was named as a defendant in the litigation
to open the proceedings. However,
now that Mauffray has agreed to open
the proceedings, he has requested Judge
Thomas Yeager to dismiss the media's
The prosecution of the "Jena 6" has
drawn harsh criticism because three white
teenagers accused of hanging nooses in a
tree at Jena High School the night before the
beating were not charged by the prosecutor's
office. Prosecutor Reed Walters originally
charged Bell with attempted murder.
Judge seals confession tape already in circulation
when the State Attorney's Office refused
to release the recording to The Times-
Assistant State Attorney Jay Taylor
called the newspaper's articles a "primer"
on how to "go about obstructing justice,"
according to The Times-Union.
An attorney for the paper argued that
prosecutors should have asked the court
Groups seek voter rolls for 2008
TALLAHASSEE The Florida problems that can occur when voter
Department of State is facing more than registration forms are processed.
a dozen lawsuits by civil rights groups The Advancement Project filed a federal
seeking access to records of voters suit against the Department of State in
turned away from the polls. The groups September. The group made a public
are challenging the state's methods records request this year that showed
of deciding who can and cannot vote, more than 20,000 voter applications were
alleging the current system unfairly designated as "pending" in 2006.
denies voters access to the polls. Lawyers for the state contend that
Reliance on computer matches is one groups are attempting to "create an
flaw in Florida's system, and groups atmosphere of turmoil where there is
such as the Advancement Project hope none," according to the Pensacola News-
to obtain records that will illustrate Journal.
Does "sounding board" need sun?
PONTEVEDRA BEACH -A
committee designed to recommend
names for a new high school and address
other educational issues is not subject to
Florida's Open Meetings Law, according
to the St. Johns School C C
Board attorney. Despite A C
this determination, the
committee's meetings will MEETI
be open to the public.
The school board attorney, Frank
Upchurch, told the Ponte Vedra Leader
that because the School Board did not
delegate duties to the committee, the Open
Meetings Law did not apply. However,
panels formed to advise governmental
bodies are typically subject to the Open
Craig Speziale, principal of the
unnamed high school, said the committee
-SS would be a "sounding board"
j]SS on several issues. He said
up to 30 members will be
N -GS selected for the committee
based on an online survey on
the school's Web site.
In addition to naming the school, the
committee will provide input on colors,
a mascot, and broader education issues,
according to Speziale.
to seal the recording earlier if it wanted to
keep the subject out of public scrutiny.
A co-defendant in the case, 32-year
old Obi Johnson III, is alleged to have
circulated the tape among the public.
Authorities have charged Johnson with
witness tampering, accusing him of
circulating the tape to intimidate the
open for now
LOS ANGELES The database that
provides information about who registers
domain names will stay open to the public,
despite efforts by privacy advocates to
shield the information from the public.
The decision to keep the database open
was made by the Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN),
a nonprofit organization that manages
the Internet's domain-name system. An
ICANN committee voted 17-7 to continue
the issue. PRIVACY
"WHOIS" database allows the public to
view the name and contact information
associated with each domain name.
Critics of the publicly accessible
database argue that the domain registry
doesn't protect the privacy rights of
registrants, and that the registry is used
by marketers and spammers to obtain new
e-mail addresses. However, businesses,
intellectual property holders and even
law enforcement have argued to keep the
database open in order to assist in efforts
to go after lawbreakers.
Visit www.internic.net/whois.html to
access the domain registry.
2 The Brechner Report January 2008
JACKSONVILLE A taped police
interview with a defendant in a drug-
trafficking case was sealed by a trial
judge, even though The Florida Times-
Union had already obtained the tape
through other sources and reported on its
The so-called "Snitch Confession" was
already in wide circulation in Jacksonville
2007 FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REPORT
Published by The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information College of Journalism and Communications University of Florida
Reporting duo's "super-sealing" series wins honor
The Brechner Center for Freedom of Danner and Christensen's reporting
Information announces the winners of the revealed that the Broward courts had
22nd annual Joseph L. Brechner Freedom improperly removed more than 100 civil
of Information Award. cases from the court docket since 2001.
The Miami Herald's Patrick Danner Some criminal cases were also left off
and Dan Christensen are the docket, and some
this year's recipients for B R E C H N E R judges did not follow
their work to uncover the law when sealing
illegal case-sealing AWARD 2007 records.
practices in the Broward Danner, a business
court system and beyond. Christensen desk reporter, originally uncovered the
won the Brechner Award in 2004 as a illegal docket practices after a routine
reporter for the Miami Daily Business court check into a divorce case involving
Review for his investigation of secret prominent local personalities. His
dockets at the federal level, industrious reporting revealed that
the lawsuit had disappeared from the
Broward Circuit Court's public, searchable
Danner and Christensen investigated
and filed records requests, which led to
a suit by The Miami Herald for the case
numbers and party names of more than
100 sealed cases.
Danner and Christensen's thorough
and diligent use of court records revealed
serious problems in the case sealing
practices of the Broward courts. However,
the impact of their work reached far
beyond Broward and spurred statewide
Fate of false light delayed until March 2008
TALLAHASSEE The Florida some guidance to Florida attorneys as to
Supreme Court was set to hear oral the status of false light, which provides a
arguments Oct. 10 in the false light cause of action when published materials
invasion of privacy case involving portray a person in a "false light" even if
Pensacola businessman the information is true.
Joe Anderson Jr. and the P )IV A C Y The First District Court of
Pensacola News-Journal, 1 V Appeal inAnderson reversed
but the Court decided an $18.2 million verdict in
to delay arguments until March 6, 2008, Anderson's favor, holding that the case
so that arguments could be heard at the was essentially a libel claim and therefore
same time as the case Jews for Jesus Inc. subject to libel's two-year statute of
v. Rapp. limitations. False light claims have a four-
The outcomes of the two appeals to year statute of limitations as "unspecified
the state's highest court should provide torts" in Florida.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal in
Rapp reversed a lower court's dismissal
of Edith Rapp's false light claim alleging
a Jews for Jesus newsletter implied that
she converted to Christianity. The Fourth
District also certified to the Florida Supreme
Court a question of great public importance:
"Does Florida recognize the tort of false
light invasion of privacy, and if so, are the
elements of the tort set forth in section 652E
of Restatement (Second) of Torts?"
The 2007 legislative session saw two
bills that would have eliminated the false
light tort in Florida, but neither bill passed.
Experimental records program gets approval
MANATEE COUNTY The Manatee
County Clerk of Court launched a one-
year pilot program in public access to
paperless court records.
The Florida Supreme Court, which
halted all other electronic access initiatives
in the state because of privacy concerns,
granted Manatee County a "modified
limited moratorium," allowing it to serve
as the testing ground for public access to
electronic court records.
Manatee Clerk of Court R.B. "Chips"
Shore said the program is intended to The Florida Bar News.
demonstrate to the Court and skeptics that The program will provide experimental
it is possible to protect A C CS electronic access to court records
confidential information I A3C3 through its Web site in order to
while opening court COURTS gather information for the court
records to public scrutiny so it can develop rules for access
through online convenience, based on real data.
"I need the public to be involved to test Shore said he hopes Manatee County's
the system so we can report to the Court pilot program will be the basis for the rest
what works and what doesn't. This needs of the state to open up their records. More
to work for the public because these are information about the pilot program is
their records," Shore said, according to available at www.manateeclerk.com.
Annual FOIReport U 2007
2007 FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REPORT
TALLAHASSEE Attorney General
Bill McCollum issued opinions this year
on open government issues ranging from
city commission e-mails to accident scene
photos. Full-text opinions are available at
Regional planning council: Is it a
violation of the Sunshine Law for two
county commissioners who are also board
members of a regional planning council
to attend and participate in planning
council ;,,,.. iri,, i.. h, those planning
council issues may later arise at county
commission, i... ,,.- 9
13: Two county ATTO R
are also planning GENERAL
may take part
in council meetings and express their
opinions without violating the Sunshine
Law. However, they should not discuss
these issues outside the Sunshine as either
commissioners or council members.
E-mails and e-mail addresses: Are
e-mails sent by city commissioners that
contain undisclosed or blind recipients
and their e-mail addresses public records?
Ifso, how should these records be
AGO 2007-14: An e-mail sent by the
commissioner in connection with official
business is a public record, regardless of
whether the e-mail contained undisclosed
or blind recipients. Records custodians
should comply with Florida statutes
and internal procedures regarding the
maintenance of electronic records.
Business expansion/relocation plans:
Does section 288.075, Florida Statutes,
requiring an economic development
agency to keep business plans confidential
upon written requestfrom the business,
preclude the agency from disclosing the
existence of the written request and other
AGO 2007-15: A written request
for confidentiality under 288.075(2)
may contain information required to
be confidential. The records custodian
must determine on a case-by-case basis
whether the request or part of the request
falls under the statutory exemption. The
custodian may cite 288.075(2) as the
reason for withholding the document
(implicating its existence) without
violating the confidentiality required by
Juvenile misdemeanor records: Is
advice from attorney general
the sheriff's office required to release the
name and addresses ofparents ofjuvenile
misdemeanor offenders when asked for
such information in a public records
AGO 2007-19: Assuming section
985.04(2) (governing juvenile records
where the juvenile has committed what
would be equivalent to, if he was an
adult, three or more misdemeanors or a
felony) does not apply, the sheriff's office
is not authorized to release the names
and addresses of the parents of a juvenile
misdemeanor pursuant to a public records
Who is considered
personnel" for the purposes of the public
records exemption in section 119.071
(4)(d) Florida Statutes? What limits the
chief ofpolice when releasing photos of
police department officers and employees?
AGO 2007-21: This exemption seeks
to protect law enforcement personnel and
their families. Although "law enforcement
personnel" is not clearly defined, it
includes law enforcement officers
who, for the purposes of the public
records exemption, appear to include
sworn personnel but not support staff.
Photographs of law enforcement officers
are exempt, but not confidential. The
chief of police should consider whether
there is a statutory or policy need for
releasing the photos.
How does the Public Records Law
apply to e-mails sent among public
ofi icl.\ ?
Informal Opinion, June 8, 2007:
E-mails made or received by agency
employees in connection with official
business are public records. The Open
Meetings Law also applies to e-mails
among public officials. As long as there
is no interaction among officials related to
an e-mail sent by one public official (i.e., a
county commissioner), then there appears
to be no violation of the Open Meetings
Are local health councils which are
provided for in section 408.033, Florida
Statutes, subject to the Open 1I... rI,,1.
AGO 2007-27, June 26, 2007:
Yes. In determining whether a private
organization is subject to the Open
Meetings Law, the Attorney General's
Office usually looks at factors related to the
relationship between the private entity (the
local health council) and the public entity
(such as the Department of Health and the
Agency for Healthcare Administration).
The local health councils are established
pursuant to statute, play an integral role
in the decision-making process of the
AHCA, their costs are paid by assessments
collected by the state, and they are
included within the definition of a regional
government entity for purposes of the
Florida Governmental Conflict Resolution
Act. Therefore, local health councils are
subject to the Open Meetings Law.
May the request by the attorney for an
entity to meet in private pursuant to an
exemption to the Open I i.... r', '; Law be
made during a special ;,,. r, i' 9
AGO 2007-31, July 10, 2007: Yes. The
request for a closed attorney-client meeting
may be made during a special meeting as
long as the special meeting is open to the
public, notice has been given, and minutes
Are photographs taken by the medical
examiner 's.. iai,.,r. ,i at the site of an
automobile accident exemptfrom disclosure
under Florida s Public Records Law?
Informal Opinion, July 25, 2007: Yes.
In AGO 2001-47, the opinion concluded
that crime scene photographs were not
included within the scope of the Fla. Stat.
s. 119.07(1) exemption for autopsy photos.
However, the exemption would still apply
to photographs taken by the medical
examiner as part of the autopsy process.
May city commissioners, outside a
public ;,,.. i,,,'. exchange documents that
they wish other members of the commission
to consider on matters coming before the
commission for official action, and ifso,
what limitations exist?
AGO 2007-35: Yes. However,
commissioners are not permitted to respond
to the exchange of documents or interact
with each other related to the documents
prior to the public meeting.
Is a "Notice of Claim made under
section 768.28(6), Florida Statutes,
confidential and exempt from the Public
Records Law until termination of all
i, ir,.- i,, and settlement of all claims
arising out of the same incident?
AGO 2007-47: Nothing in the statute
expressly includes or excludes the notice
as a part of the claims files exempt from
public disclosure. The public agency must
make a good faith determination of whether
the notice is exempt.
2Annual FOI Report U 2007
2007 FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REPORT
State launches new initiatives
TALLAHASSEE 2007 was a good
year for open government policy in
Florida, boosted by several new initiatives
at the state level.
First, in January, Gov. Charlie Crist
announced the creation of the Office of
Open Government within his executive
office. The goal of the office is to ensure
compliance with the Public Records
Law and Sunshine Law. The office also
assists in training government agencies on
"Respecting the public trust that is
bestowed upon all of us who serve the
people of Florida is a top priority for me
and for my administration," said Crist,
who took office Jan. 2, 2007.
In June 2007, Crist appointed a
nine-member Commission on Open
Government to review and evaluate the
public's right of access to government
meetings and records. The commission's
findings and recommendations garnered
at a series of public hearings will be
presented to the governor Senate
president and speaker of the House of
Representatives by the end of 2008.
The commission is comprised of media
representatives, attorneys and government
officials from throughout the state.
Crist's successor as attorney general,
Bill McCollum, also took steps to
keep Florida "in the Sunshine" with
the announcement of a new project at
his office. McCollum launched the
Government Accountability Project (GAP)
in partnership with Professor Sandra
Chance, executive director of the Brechner
Center for Freedom of Information.
The first phase of GAP was completed
in the fall of 2007 and identified records
that are difficult for citizens to obtain. In
the second phase, GAP will work with
state and local governments to increase
access to records.
"Florida is a national leader in
providing open government for the
public," McCollum said. "It is my hope
that this project will serve as an example
for other government entities to follow."
Berl, Josh, and
Center s 30th
The Summit also
drew FOI experts
the country to
FEMA releases aid information
FORT MYERS Two months after a
court ruling in its favor, The News-Press
(Fort Myers) finally received disaster aid
information from the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA).
In June, a panel for the 11h U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals ruled that FEMA must
provide The News-Press and other Florida
newspapers with addresses of households
that received disaster aid between 1998
Before it released the information,
FEMA spent $1.1 million to notify the aid
recipients that their addresses would be
Based on the first set of data released by
FEMA on Aug. 27, The News-Press found
that many Floridians received less than
$10 in aid.
Analysis of the information also
showed that of more than 1 million
people who requested FEMA aid after the
devastating 2004 hurricanes, fewer than
one in three received cash assistance.
In opposing the release of the
information, the government argued that
disclosure would violate the privacy of
aid recipients, stigmatize victims and
potentially be used for identity theft.
The media argued that specific
information was necessary to investigate
claims of abuse of the system.
6 in Fla. FOI
Hall of Fame
The 2007 Florida FOI Summit
offered an opportunity not only to
discuss the current condition of
open government laws, but also to
recognize those whose efforts have
helped make Florida's laws the
toughest in the nation.
The six Florida Freedom of
Information Hall of Fame inductees
are: James C. Adkins Jr., Marion
B. Brechner, Talbot "Sandy"
D'Alemberte, H.G. "Buddy" Davis,
Louis Michael "Skip" Perez and
Gregg D. Thomas.
The late James C. "Jimmy"
Adkins Jr., a Florida Supreme Court
justice, earned the nickname "Justice
Sunshine" for his interpretations of
Florida's fledgling Open Meetings
Law in favor of the public.
Philanthropist and former media
executive Marion B. Brechner was
inducted for her continuing support of
FOI and the First Amendment.
President Emeritus of Florida
State University Talbot "Sandy"
D'Alemberte was a key figure in
several important events in the
history of freedom of information in
Florida including the passage of the
Sunshine Law and the success of the
cameras in the courtroom experiment.
Longtime journalism professor
at the University of Florida and a
Pulitzer-Prize winning editorialist, the
late H.G. "Buddy" Davis Jr. played
a key role in the development of
Florida's Open Meetings Law, which
he helped draft.
Louis Michael "Skip" Perez,
executive editor of The Lakeland
Ledger, has consistently fought for
the right to government information
and has been a leader in Florida's FOI
Gregg D. Thomas is a media
attorney with the law firm Thomas
& LoCicero in Tampa. Thomas has
spent the past 30 years advocating for
the media in courtrooms across the
state and in the U.S. Supreme Court.
More information about the 2007
class of Hall of Fame inductees can
be found at www.brechner.org.
Annual FOI Report U 2007 2
2007 FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REPORT
Lawmakers pass 11 new exemptions in 2007
TALLAHASSEE The following is a discussed or presented. (Llorente, R- Underwriting Association, Inc. that are
summary of laws passed during the 2007 Miami) 1) underwriting files; 2) claims files until
legislative session that created exemptions HB 853 Exemption/Historic St. termination of all litigation and settlement
to the Public Records and Open Meetings Augustine Donors: Creates a public of all claims arising out of the same
laws. Chief sponsors of the bills are in records exemption for the identity of a accident; 3) records obtained or generated
parentheses at the end of the summaries, donor or prospective donor to the historic by an auditor pursuant to a routine audit
SB = Senate Bill; HB = House Bill; CS = preservation of St. Augustine if the donor or investigation until such is complete;
Committee Substitute. or prospective donor wishes to remain 4) proprietary information licensed
HB 63 Exemption/Domestic anonymous. (Proctor, R-St. Augustine) to the association under contract; 5)
Violence State Employees: Creates CS/SB 1034 Exemption/Physician medical records; 6) records relating to an
a public records exemption for personal, Workforce Surveys: Creates a public employee's participation in an employee
identifying information contained in records exemption for all personal, assistance program; 7) information
records documenting an act of domestic identifying information contained relating to negotiations for financing,
violence that is submitted to an agency in workforce surveys completed by reinsurance, etc., until conclusion of the
by an agency employee. Also exempts physicians as a condition of license negotiations; 8) reports provided to or
written requests for leave submitted by an renewal by the Department of Health, submitted by the association regarding
agency employee and agency time sheets Allows disclosure under certain specified suspected fraud or other criminal activity
reflecting such circumstances, until any investigation into such activity
requests until one T TT A T I (Atwater, R-North is closed; (9) payroll information and
year after the leave LE G ISLAj V Palm Beach) client lists of employee leasing companies
has been taken. SESSION REPORT CS/HB 1405 received from the Department of Revenue;
(Porth, D-Coral Exemption/ and 10) records prepared by an association
Springs) Historic attorney reflecting a mental impression,
CS/HB 131 Exemption/Florida Landmarks Donors: Creates a public conclusion, litigation strategy, or legal
Opportunity Fund: Creates a public records exemption for identifying theory of such. Allows disclosure under
records exemption for 1) materials relating information about a donor or prospective certain specified circumstances. Requires
to methods of manufacture or production, donor to publicly owned house museums that all portions of meetings discussing
potential trade secrets, or patentable designated National Historic Landmarks if confidential information be recorded and
material received, generated, ascertained, such persons desire anonymity. (Bullard, transcribed, but creates an exemption for
or discovered during the course of D-Miami) such information. (Reagan, R-Bradenton)
research conducted by universities or SB 1510 Exemption/Sunshine State HB 7193 Exemption/U.S. Census
other publicly supported organizations One-Call: Creates a public records Information: Creates a public record
in Florida; 2) information identifying exemption for proprietary confidential exemption for U.S. Census bureau
investors or potential investors to the fund business information held by Sunshine information, including maps showing
who desire anonymity; 3) information State One-Call which describes damage structure location points, address
received from another state or nation to an underground facility or use of the verification records, and address error
that would otherwise be confidential or member ticket management software or omission records held by an agency
exempt; and 4) proprietary confidential system. Prohibits disclosure if the pursuant to federal law. Allows for
business information regarding alternative information 1) is treated by the company disclosure under certain specified
investments for 10 years after termination as confidential; 2) would be used by circumstances. (Attkisson, R- St. Cloud)
of the investment. Exempts portions a competitor to harm the company's HB 7201 Exemption/Economic
of meetings of the fund board and the interests; and 3) is not otherwise readily Development Agencies: Creates an
Institute for the Commercialization ascertainable or publicly available by exemption for 1) proprietary confidential
of Public Research at which exempt proper means from another source in business information held by an
information is discussed. Requires that the same configuration as provided to economic development agency until such
such meetings be recorded but creates Sunshine State One-Call of Florida, Inc. information is no longer treated as such by
an exemption for portions containing (Aronberg, D-Greenacres) the proprietor; 2) trade secrets and federal
confidential information. Allows access HB 7159 Exemption/Lifeline identification numbers; 3) unemployment
under certain specified conditions and Assistance Plan: Creates a public record compensation account numbers, or Florida
stipulates that any lawsuit to compel exemption for personal identifying sales tax registration numbers held by an
access must be brought in Orange County. information of participants in the Lifeline economic development agency (EDA).
(Grant, R-Port Charlotte) Assistance Plan held by the Public Service In addition, creates an exemption for
CS/HB 463 Exemption/High School Commission. Provides for disclosure certain specified information held by
Drug Tests: Creates a public records when authorized by the customer, an EDA pursuant to the administration
exemption for records relating to random necessary for billing purposes, or required of an economic incentive program for
drug tests of high school athletes. Allows by the court. (Reagan, R-Bradenton) qualified business, stipulating that the
disclosure to certain persons, including HB 7169 Exemption/Worker's exemption applies only for the duration
a student's parents and administrators. Compensation: Creates public record of the incentive agreement and expires
Exempts portions of a meeting at which exemptions for records held by the if the incentive agreement is terminated.
confidential and exempt records are Florida Workers' Compensation Joint (Attkisson, R- St. Cloud)
4 Annual FOIReport 2007
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
WASHINGTON, D.C. Despite
earlier attempts at secrecy, NASA decided
to release results of an aviation survey
that showed near collisions of aircraft and
other safety problems are more prevalent
than the public may think.
The Associated Press requested the
survey data under FOIA in 2006, but
NASA refused to release the information,
citing the potential to upset travelers and
damage airline profits. Pressure from
Congress and the media resulted in NASA
receding from its earlier position.
The survey collected data from
24,000 pilots, who were interviewed
anonymously. NASA official Michael
Griffin indicated that the $11.3 million
survey's methodology may be flawed, a
claim the survey's experts say is not true.
NASA's promise to release the data
came with a caveat it said it would take
months to "scrub" the data to be sure
that no identifying information of the
pilots would be released. But a Stanford
University professor who helped develop
the survey said the identifying information
could easily be removed in a week.
Both Democratic and Republican
lawmakers were highly critical of NASA's
reaction to the request for information.
"Why does it take a hearing in Congress
and public pressure for a hearing to get
this information made public," said Rep.
Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz, according to The
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
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The BrechnerReport is published 12 times a
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WASHINGTON, D.C. The Federal
Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) staged a fake news conference
about assistance to victims of California
wildfires, a move that drew harsh
criticism from government leaders.
"I think it was one of the dumbest
and most inappropriate things I've seen
since I've been in government," Director
of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff
said, according to The Associated Press.
FEMA is a part of Homeland Security.
The press conference featured
FEMA employees posing as reporters
and asking Deputy Director Harvey E.
Johnson questions about the agency's
response to the wildfires. FEMA gave
the media 15 minutes notice of the news
conference and made an 800 number
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY The U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers' recent meeting
on the environmental impact of mining
near the Everglades was open to the
public, but attendees faced an overflowing
crowd and uniformed firefighters who
demanded photo identification.
After providing photo IDs, attendees
were photographed and given orange
badges to wear in the building.
The meeting occurred at the Miami-
Dade Fire Rescue headquarters. The fire
department said the security measures
were dictated by the Department of
Public access to the Corps' decision-
making process regarding the issuance
of mining permits was key to a federal
MIAMI A local TV reporter was
arrested while attempting to interview
parents and students at a Miami-Dade
high school. Police charged WPLG-TV
reporter Jeff Weinsier with trespassing and
possession of a firearm on school grounds.
Officers said they asked Weinsier, 40,
several times to cross the street.
"I was never trying to get onto school
property, I just wanted to interview people
outside of the school, like parents picking
their kids up," Weinsier said, according to
available so that reporters could listen in.
Johnson said the goal of the press
conference was to relay information
to the public as soon as possible but
called the event "an error in judgment,"
according to The AP. John P "Pat"
Philbin, who oversaw the conference, lost
a promotion because of the incident.
Philbin said there was no plan to stage
a press conference. He said he assumed
the media advisory had been released
much further in advance.
"[A]t the end of the day, I'm the
person in charge and responsible for
this," Philbin told The AP. He said the
agency has struggled with increasing
transparency and major reorganization
following its sluggish response to
ID at meeting
judge's decision to temporarily void the
permits, according to the South Florida
Meanwhile, the Corps is studying the
impact of rock mining on Everglades
Industry groups such as CSX and the
Florida Chamber of Commerce attended
the meeting and asked the Corps to restore
mining operations. The case is now
pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the Eleventh Circuit.
The Corps is considering a new
location for future meetings. Corps
project manager Leah Oberlin told the
South Florida Business Journal that she
did not know about the ID requirement
when she scheduled the meeting.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of
Weinsier began carrying a gun after
receiving death threats related to his
reports on unsanitary conditions at
restaurants, according to the station.
Weinsier, who has a concealed weapons
permit, was released from jail on $11,000
bond. The station said it stands behind
Weinsier's actions, but he was suspended
for two weeks for carrying a gun without
The Brechner Report U January 2008
FEMA draws fire for fake news
TV reporter arrested for trespass
University of Florida
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
3208 Welmer Hall, P.O. Box 118400
Galnesville, FL 32611
Permit No. 94
F UNIVERSITY of
Public records key to char
Welcome to Jacksonville City Council's "lost
episodes." Hundreds of public meetings so poorly
noticed or recorded that the public had little-to-no
chance of knowing about them, even though they
covered such key taxpayer topics as growth, budgets and
transportation. And the public would still be clueless if
not for the power of public records.
A Florida Times- Union review of 18 months
of council member calendars, e-mails, meeting Joe
announcements and minutes revealed a culture of
carelessness, apathy and arrogant disregard for the Open
Meetings Law. Aside from a faulty system of public notice and
minutes-keeping regarding meetings, the probe exposed dozens
of questionable unnoticed meetings among council members
The including some referencing
B k P public business. A former
ack a council president's calendar
By Joe Adams referred to a local restaurant as
"City Hall Annex West."
The newspaper's findings concerned the council and its top
lawyer so much that they introduced the Jacksonville Sunshine
Law Compliance Act to correct the problems nearly two weeks
before The Times-Union planned to publish its findings. The act
- co-sponsored and later approved by all 19 city council members
- is believed to be the first local addendum to Florida's Sunshine
Law. In addition, a grand jury probe into potential Sunshine
violations continues at this writing. Council members have denied
A loose reputation clouded the council's Sunshine practices
for decades. Despite occasional newspaper reports of problems,
not much changed. It looked to be that way again in January
2006. Times-Union reporter Beth Kormanik wrote a story that I
followed with a critical editorial about an out-of-sunshine e-mail
discussion among some council members about a downtown
building's future. The ease of that conversation hinted that
this wasn't a one-time thing, and I decided to start reading the
council's e-mails regularly. Access didn't come easily. It took
five months to overcome technical hurdles just to see e-mails of
all council members from one computer. With the council alerted
in advance of my City Hall visits, I expected to find few, if any,
similar e-mail chats. And I didn't.
iging culture of secrecy
But some stunning patterns emerged from those
checks and the two public records requests for calendars
and meeting documents that I made later. The council
fared well at posting notices and minutes for its regular
council and committee meetings. But it failed miserably
with smaller meetings involving two or more council
members where much of public policy is forged. Some
noticed those meetings on a city listserv off limits to the
dams public or press. Others posted notices on a first-floor
City Hall bulletin board. Some put them in a press box at
council offices, which required the public to go through
two layers of security to reach them.
Meanwhile, 10 council members could produce no meeting
minutes at all for an 18-month period. And some minutes
were so sketchy that it would take a psychic to figure out what
council members said. Council members scheduled and held
some meetings on the same day. And most meetings occurred
in council members' own offices, which can have a chilling
effect on attendance. It all added up to a Jacksonville brand of
Sunshine Law that shut out the public for years.
I shared the details of that year of research with the newsroom.
Kormanik built a database based on more than 4,000 pages
of calendars and other documents we analyzed line by line.
Kormanik's special report appeared and my editorials followed,
all earlier than planned because of the new Sunshine ordinance.
It gives Jacksonville the strongest open meetings requirements in
Florida, including: uniform rules for posting meeting notices and
minutes; Internet access to notices and minutes for all council
members; no public meetings in council members' personal
offices or restaurants; annual sunshine training for council
members; meeting notices at least 24 hours in advance unless
special signoff is obtained; formal compliance reviews and an
Officials determined to disregard the law will do it. But the
council's Sunshine culture brightened dramatically, and the
public has more access to its own business than ever. A key
lesson from all of this: Never underestimate the power of public
records to help inspire positive change.
Joe Adams is an editorial writer with The Florida Times-
Union and author of The Florida Public Records Handbook.