State of Alaska: 24,000, $725.97.
You should be outraged. These are the prices each state charged recently for public records. To be precise, the Great State of Alaska charged $725.27 for 24,000 pages of emails by former Gov. Sarah Palin. The emails came in five boxes. Each box weighed 55 pounds.
Meanwhile, Florida charged $784.84 for 1,100 emails (not pages). And these precious emails were not those of Gov. Rick Scott. No, these were the public records of his communications director, Brian Burgess.
Let's repeat - Palin, 24,000 pages $725.97. Burgess, 1,100 emails $784.84.
Crowley Political Report would like to think that Burgess emails are more fascinating than Palin emails but we suspect not.
Florida was once known as the nation's leader for public openness. Floridians have a fundamental belief that they are entitled to know what their government is doing. Unfortunately too many elected officials and government employees have contempt for Florida's Sunshine Laws.
Clearly Scott's office has little regard for access to public records. Not only does his office make it painfully slow to complete public records requests but by charging onerous fees it makes access to public records unaffordable for the average citizen.
Yes, many if not most of the public records requests that arrive in the governor's office come from the media - and who wants to have sympathy for those guys. But the fact is that public records and open meetings laws are meant to protect access for Florida's citizens.
A brief example - many years ago, a young reporter dropped by a sheriff's office to see the daily report log - a public record. The reporter asked to see the log and the answer from the deputy on duty was "who are you?" The reply, "does it matter?"
"Yes, we don't just show the log to anyone."
"But it's a public record."
"Well we don't show it to just anyone?"
This back and forth went on for awhile. Finally the duty sergeant arrived and admitted that any citizen was entitled to see the log.
Sometimes the media forgets that the public records and open meetings are not about the media but about the public. And sometimes the public forgets that the fights the media leads to win access ultimately benefit the citizen who, for whatever reason, finds the need for a public record.
Remember, if public officials are willing to block access to the media - what stops them from blocking access for the average citizen.
And what happens in the governor's office trickles down to county and local governments - and that is particularly worrisome in places where reporters rarely, if ever, show up. That makes it even more imperative that citizens have access to government records and open meetings.
Recently, "public" meetings for a citizen's committee of a school board were held behind locked doors. Citizens had to sign in at a front desk, take an elevator and then be admitted into the locked room. No media covered these meetings.
This week the First Amendment Foundation meets in St. Petersburg to discuss the current status of Florida's open meeting and public records laws. The group, of which Crowley Political Report is a member, will also be looking for ways to increase citizen involvement in these issues.
With the size of the media rapidly shrinking, the number of reporters to keep an eye on your government is diminishing. It has never been more important for citizen's to demand their right to know what their government is doing,
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Art by West Palm Beach artist Patrick Crowley