In February, The Florida Bar CLE Committee offered an intermediate level course "Sunshine Law, Public Records, and Ethics." I have reviewed the materials and compared them with the reality on the ground in my hometown. There is little resemblance.
In February, in Gainesville, I broadly asked orally and in writing for documents in 15 different categories. My purpose is simple: I want to show that municipal-appointed charter officers ignore policy directions given by elected officials, when those responsible for day-to-day operation disagree with or are indifferent to the instructions, especially if provision of the material would have negative results.
The city attorney, who has been in office since 1985, is especially disdainful of a public right to records.
But why would his beliefs hold sway? In the past, the city clerk, a charter officer, was the custodian of records to whom I turned. But that appointed official has informed me that the custodians now are in each department or section or office responsible for the records in question. Each works in his or her mysterious ways.
So after more than a month, I have received responses to only three of the 15 categories. In one instance, the materials provided did not include three of 41 pages of annual salaries for each of the municipality's 2,200 plus employees. The city manager apparently did not consider it appropriate for me to have the full list which included "temporary" employees. So he directed a 38-page list be sent to me, without inclusion of that category, especially "temporary professionals."
The good news is that nobody has asked me for any fees while the individual anonymous custodians process my request. Another attorney has not been as fortunate.
He asked for documents to further his client's interest in an administrative proceeding.
He alleges that the City of Gainesville discriminated against his client.
He has been told that he must pay $40,000 for that information, because of the extensive time required for employees to scrutinize every document, every email, to determine whether redaction is necessary.
Redaction creates its own nightmare. In my community, citizens still appear at city commission meetings to complain about the attorney-approved redaction of most of the language of a 30-year contract between the city and a private company for provision of biomass fuel.
The redactions were removed after a settlement in an appeals court. The contract with redactions had been approved more than a year earlier.
As long as constitutional protections are ignored for access to records, indeed, meaningful access to our courts themselves for disfavored attorneys like me, the concepts of justice and fairness cannot be taken seriously in our Sunshine State.