This is Sunshine Week, the celebration held each year by journalism and public records advocacy groups to remind people how important it is that the public has – unfettered to the largest degree possible – access to information about what is being done on its behalf with its money.
So in honor of this annual celebration, The Citizens Awareness Foundation challenges citizens in Florida to make a public records request.
Do it so you know how. Do it to feel the power of your tax dollars at work. Do it to see just how well versed your local government employees are in Florida’s public records laws.
Some public servants understand the sweeping nature and plain language of Florida Statute 119. They do their duty and provide members of the public with the information they are entitled to. And they do it in a timely fashion for a reasonable cost, if any.
Some do not, and you can find out if the public servants who work for you are among them.
It’s simple. You just ask a public official or entity — your property appraiser, clerk of courts, elections supervisor, sheriff, police department, fire department, county or city government — the list is long — what records are available to the public.
Then you pick one you want to look at and ask to inspect it. Or you can ask for copies and go home, spread them out on the dining room table and have a look.
If you want to be more formal about it, you can find templates for 119 letters (so-named for the Florida statute they are based on) at the First Amendment Foundation’s website under “resources.”
It’s always good to get these things in writing in case you have to fight for the records you want.
It could restore your faith in your government or open your eyes to abuses. It’s a good exercise for you and for everyone in the state.
Let us know how you do. Request a public records, and tell us how it goes for you.
Remember, you have the most at stake in this public records contest with public officials and local and state contractors that want to operate in secret.
You are the public, so you should take it personally that they want to spend your money and act on your behalf without your full knowledge.