This is the public records law in Florida.
In years past, the media could simply ask public officials and employees a question and would get an answer, because public records are open to the public under that law.
Then, government agencies that didn’t want to answer questions because they didn’t want the answers published, learned some new tricks.
They could make answering questions a formal “process.”
In addition, they could make it a source of revenue.
Eye on Jacksonville had a number of questions we have asked during the past month in the process.
Fortunately, we are getting answers. Winks to Laureen Ricks at the school board, Leigh Ann Rassler at the JTA and Craig Feiser at the Office of General Counsel. They are providing useful information that we plan to use for future stories about issues of interest to Eye on Jacksonville readers.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is using the “clarification” gambit. We had asked for two figures that should be readily available. They didn’t understand the simple question so we clarified – and still no answer. A week after we responded our status was listed on the police Web site as “waiting for requester response.”
We have been warned that there could be a cost for answers to our questions.
None of the questions we have asked requires any extensive work to answer. It should all be readily available in any organization that is functioning properly. Certainly in the private sector this would be the case.
So we wait. And we will report periodically to the citizens of Jacksonville on how the process is working. They can be the judge of whether Jacksonville government is open and transparent.
City Council President Anna Brosche’s Task Force on Open Government is cognizant of the problem with the Sheriff’s Office. At last week’s meeting, the task force was told there have been 80,000 requests for information about police matters since March 2017 and 51,500 responses.
Although it was not broken down by source, I suspect few of those are from the media. Most probably are attorneys and insurance companies seeking information.
In any case, it indicates a problem.
Fifty years ago, the police department was open. Reporters, lawyers, insurance company reps, bail bondsmen and others freely moved in and out of headquarters, obtaining information they needed.
Since moving to Fort Carson at Liberty and Bay streets and combining city and county officers, police headquarters has become a fortress. Even reporters normally are allowed entry only into a small room where some offense reports are kept. They rarely talk to officers.
Sheriff Mike Williams should be looking at ways to open police operations to the public and improve the flow of information.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://eyeonjacksonville.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Lloyd-Brown.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida. He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union. He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.[/author_info] [/author]