Politicians and bureaucrats in Jacksonville have all but erased the idea of government in the sunshine, the latest example being the brazen act of JEA executives holding a public meeting in a public place and shutting out the media.
The media has no one to blame but themselves.
Government in the sunshine was the result of decades of government in the dark, when secret deals were made in backrooms.
In Florida, it began in the late 1960s and result in laws requiring most meetings and most records to be public.
As with anything else in the political sphere, it was overdone. Rather than a balanced approach, the media demanded access to anything and everything, including matters that were not the public’s business.
But in Jacksonville, the sunshine movement coincided with the birth of consolidated government, and city officials were very cooperative with the media during the 1970s.
Reporters were allowed to roam City Hall, the courthouse and other public buildings at will and talk to all bureaucrats at any time.
Gradually, over the years, this has changed.
Reporters now get handed news releases and think they are reporting the news.
Although Mayor Lenny Curry didn’t invent the trend, under his administration it has reached new heights. He is known to be intent upon “shaping his message,” which means controlling information.
A task force on open government found last year that public access to information was far too limited. A bill to correct it was passed by City Council, but it was so watered down that it did not accomplish much.
The city’s Web site should be a useful tool but it has many deficiencies. Reporters are shunted to highly paid public relations people who simply give them spin instead of useful information – if they give them anything at all.
Why the local media has allowed this to happen is unclear.
They have focused on such trivia as reading email sent between officials, rather than demanding access for face-to-face questioning.
But they are now seeing the results. By acting as lapdogs they are being treated like lapdogs.