A catering business proprietor asks a city recreation department for reservation data regarding park facilities. The director refuses to release the records unless the business owner writes a letter explaining why she wants the information.
In another part of the state, a homeowner, concerned about stadium lighting at a nearby high school, asks the school district to produce records disclosing whether it obtained a zoning variance to install the lights. The district says that it will not provide the zoning records because the stadium lighting plans constitute a “blueprint” which is confidential pursuant to a statutory exemption passed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.
A journalist requests copies of automobile crash reports from a law enforcement agency but is told that these reports are confidential for 60 days. The reporter points out that the statute specially exempts news organizations from the 60 day waiting period but the agency refuses to change its position.
A former state employee is unable to obtain a copy of a report that he prepared when he worked at the agency.
When a reporter asks a nonprofit entity under contract with a state agency to operate a residential facility for copies of personnel records of employees at the facility, the nonprofit responds that it is not subject to the Public Records Act because it is a private company.
In each of these cases, the citizen obtained the records after contacting the Attorney General’s Office to participate in open government mediation. The mediation program is established in section 16.60, Florida Statutes, as an alternative for the resolution of public access disputes. The program is voluntary and both sides must agree to consider mediation if the program is to be initiated.
While a majority of mediation requests came from private citizens or organizations, small businesses, journalists and governmental agencies also used the program to resolve public access controversies. In most cases, the process concludes with the citizen receiving records that were requested. However, in a few instances, the program helps to explain why the agency is not required to produce the records. In all cases, however, the goal is the same–to provide an informal process that allows a citizen and a governmental agency to resolve a public access controversy without having to resort to expensive and time-consuming litigation.
The following are some of the issues addressed in the mediation program:
May an agency require a citizen to show a driver’s license or furnish identification before providing records? Resolution: No.
May an agency require a citizen to fill out a form or submit a written request before receiving public records? Resolution: No.
May an agency require a citizen to state why she wants a public record? Resolution: No.
May an agency require a citizen to obtain computer stored data in hard copy, or is the agency required to provide the data on disc, if available? Resolution: Data should be provided on disc if available in that form.
Must an agency provide access to individual evaluations prepared by board members of the city manager, or may the agency provide access to a compiled version of the evaluation only? Resolution: Individual evaluations must be made available.
Is an agency required to provide a transcript of a board meeting? Resolution: No. The Sunshine Law requires minutes, not a transcript.
May an agency exclude potential bidders from a meeting subject to the Sunshine Law? Resolution: No.
Must a university police department provide a copy of an arrest report to a reporter for the campus newspaper? Resolution: Yes.
Must an agency provide copies of applications for a new position within the agency? Resolution: Yes.
When both parties are committed to resolving a public access dispute through negotiation, open government mediation can be a cost-effective and efficient way to achieve a positive result for both sides. The resolution of public access controversies without litigation results in a cost savings to the governmental agencies and helps the public to secure access to public records and meetings, as mandated by Florida statutes and the Constitution.
For more information about mediation, you may contact us at the following address: The Office of the Attorney General, The Capitol, PL-01, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1050.