Florida’s excellent sunshine laws ensure essentially any document created by government is available for anonymous public review unless specifically exempted by statute. Unfortunately, an audit conducted by 30 Floriday newspapers discovered that nearly half the agencies surveyed were unwilling to comply when requests are made by “ordinary citizens” (i.e., made by people who did not identify themselves as journalists or attorneys). Stonewalling and intimidation ruled the day in 43% of the case. In a particularly egregious example, Broward county administrator Roger Desjarlais told a volunteer “I can make your life very difficult,” and then used the Internet to obtain the volunteer’s cell phone number to enable additional harrassment.
Desjarlais defended his actions, saying that the volunteer raised suspicion when he declined to explain who he was. Officials across the state had similar misgivings about volunteers who came into their offices. They cited a number of arbitrary reasons for their suspicions, including the volunteers’ hair length, casual dress and, in one case, “the look in his eyes.”
This next bit is priceless:
Mary Kay Cariseo, executive director of the Florida Association of Counties, said people need to understand that making a public records request can be threatening to public officials. “You’re not looking at e-mails to do something good,” she said. “You’re trying to find something. You’re trying to dig something up when we’re trying to be good public servants and run our governments.” That’s a key reason why the public records law exists, said Sandra Chance, executive director of the University of Florida’s Brechner Center, a nonprofit organization that studies and serves as a resource on public records law. The ability to inspect government records lets the public police the officials they bankroll with tax dollars.
Of course, “security” had to raise its head in the litany of bullshit excuses for not following Florida law; it’s the catch-all reason for fuzzy-headed beaurocrats everywhere:
In a post-audit interview, Taylor County Superintendent Oscar Howard said his district was hesitant to produce his cell phone bill because the volunteer wouldn’t give his name. “He could have been a terrorist,” Howard said. “We have to ensure the safety of children.” Howard couldn’t explain how a terrorist might use his cell phone bill to harm children.
Neither, of course, did Howard explain how giving a name — or even showing identification — would deter or prevent terrorists from obtaining his oh-so-sensitive cell phone bill. The rest of the nation would do well to adopt sunshine laws like Florida’s — especially if we do so on the Federal level, and hold our elected servants to the same standard. Of course, THEN where would Cheney hide his cronyism?