Florida frequently boasts of its “government in the sunshine.” But like a northerner coming to vacation in our backyard play land, that sunshine is going to cost you.
Brevard’s county commission recently voted to increase the cost of obtaining public records which by state law are required to be maintained and available to the public upon request. The rate the public is to pay for the records its government creates is based upon the pay rate of the person tasked with digging up and producing the requested information.
With taxpayers already footing the bill of government, including the employees who would be recovering the required data, a move such as this seems to be an attempt at discouraging the public from reviewing the actions and communications of its elected and appointed officials.
Admittedly there are information requests that are nuisance or politically retaliatory in nature and I suppose there is no stopping them. I would venture that most requests fall into other, more legitimate, categories.
Maybe there is a way to make this process a bit more simple and less expensive for all purposes, especially the legitimate ones. Since the information is required to be maintained and there is no way of knowing just what information may be requested, perhaps a small department of public information could be established at the county.
As maintaining and providing requested information would be the department's job, there would be no hourly fee for obtaining a public record.
The employee’s time is already paid for that purpose. If a fee is to be charged, it should be based upon the cost of materials used to provide it. In the case of electronic records, a cost per size of data file could be established.
By establishing this office the commission could avoid the appearance of stifling the public in seeking information the law says it is entitled to obtain. By charging only for materials, or by size if file necessary to complete the request, the commission appears forthcoming as opposed to obstructionist.
Sunshine may be expensive, but you shouldn’t have to mortgage the house to obtain it. And the commission shouldn’t look as if it’s trying to hide it.
CONGRATULATIONS Becky Blizzard.
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