JaxPoliticsOnline.com

Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Angela Corey Takes A Stand

New State Attorney Angela Corey has informed City officials that she will not tolerate any violations of Florida’s open government laws.  According to the Times-Union, Corey told officials that violations caused “irreparable public injury.”  She said the public considers “themselves victims of any violation of the Sunshine Law and victims of any violations of public records law because they become victims of a loss of trust.”  She went on to state very clearly that her office would not tolerate any violations.

As the Times-Union editorial board states, her statements are a welcome change to how open government violations have been treated in the past.  For all of his virtues, Harry Shorstein created the public perception that open government violations did not matter because of his public statements in declining to prosecute them.  This unwillingness to prosecute led to a culture that failed to place much emphasis on compliance with the law.

Interestingly enough, the same day the Times-Union praised Ms. Corey’s statements, they also broke news of Shorstein’s application for the open US Attorney slot in the Middle District of Florida.  Among those writing letters of recommendations for Shorstein?  None other than the Grand Jury foreman that declined to pursue charges against officials involved in open government violations.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , ,

Council Auditor Releases Sunshine Law Compliance Report

On May 29th, the Council Auditor’s Office released its Sunshine Law Compliance Review Report of City Council.  Overall, the Council Auditor did not find any evidence of non-compliance with the Sunshine Law, but there were a few problematic issues.

1. The Council Auditor noted that nine (9) out of 52 meeting notices did not include the time to be posted and one (1) out of 52 meeting notices did not include the date and time to be posted. Section 15.103(a) of the Ordinance Code states that “the notices required shall include at a minimum … (ii)the date and time the notices are to be posted…” The date and time the notices are to be posted informs Legislative Services Division of when to post a meeting notice in order to meet the 24-hour requirement, ensuring that the public has sufficient notice to attend meetings. This finding was noted in the previous Sunshine Law Compliance report #651. It appears that the Council Director/Secretary has taken the necessary action to address and correct the issues identified in our initial report.

In addition, all 10 instances of noncompliance with this requirement occurred in May and June 2008, prior to the issuance of Report #651, and prior to the annual Sunshine Law Training provided in June 2008. Although these were technical exceptions, all 10 meetings were correctly posted at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting date.

2. The Council Auditor noted that seven (7) out of 52 meeting notices did not include the meeting
initiator. Section 15.103(a) of the Code states that “the notices required shall include at a
minimum: …the Council Member calling the meeting…” This finding was noted in the previous
Sunshine Law Compliance report #651. It appears that the Council Director/Secretary has taken
the necessary action to address and correct the issues identified in our initial report through the
use of Council Member letterhead on initiated meeting documents.

In addition, all seven instances of noncompliance with this requirement occurred in May and
June 2008, prior to the issuance of Report #651, and prior to the annual Sunshine Law Training
provided in June 2008.

3. The Council Auditor noted seven (7) out of 52 meeting minutes did not include the date of the
meeting. Section 15.106(c) states that “the minutes of every Council Public Meeting conducted
between two or more Council Members outside of the regular Council meeting or committee
meeting structure shall reflect, at a minimum: the location, date and time the meeting
commenced and adjourned…”

4. The Council Auditor noted one (1) out of 52 meeting minutes did not include the meeting
adjournment time. Section 15.106(c) of the Code states that “the minutes of every Council Public
Meeting conducted between two or more Council Members outside of the regular Council
meeting or committee meeting structure shall reflect, at a minimum: the location, date and time
the meeting commenced and adjourned…”

The Council Auditor’s Office noted one opportunity for improvement:

We recommend that the names of the Council Members and other public officials and employees
in attendance be documented in all meeting minutes. This will allow the public to clearly identify
which Council Members, public officials and employees are present at a meeting, especially if
signatures are illegible on the sign-in sheet. The original attendance sign-in sheet should still be
retained with the official meeting minutes for a complete record of all attendees.

The entire Council Auditor’s report can be viewed here.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , ,

Two Area Legislators Propose to Keep School Info in the Dark

It’s Sunshine Week this week.  News media across the country have organized the party to celebrate openness in government.  Here in Jacksonville, the TU’s own Joe Adams was named a finalist in the Distinguished Service to the First Amendment category by the Scripps Howard Foundation’s National Journalism Awards.  Adams was recognized for his long term commitment to First Amendment issues and his work on Florida open government issues.  Adams wrote “The Florida Public Records Handbook” and has a Web site, idiganswers.com, dedicated to educating people on open records laws.

But two of our legislators, Tony Hill and Mia Jones, aren’t getting such high marks over in Tallahassee.  It seems that they are sponsoring legislation that would make it extremely difficult for parents to investigate their children’s schools.   Here’s the St. Pete Times editorial board with their take on it (political cartoon and all): 

BE VIGILANT ON OPENNESS

 
   

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

Panel recommends greater public records access

The Commission on Open Government Reform unanimously voted Monday to approve a nearly 200-page report on how to make government and records more accessible. It includes several sections on dealing with electronic records.

Among them are requiring government employees to disclose any public records stored on personal computers or transmitted through personal e-mail accounts. It also would require agencies to adopt policies prohibiting employees from using text and instant messages to discuss public business during public meetings or hearings.

The commission also suggests ways of making e-mail records more accessible and affordable, including the installation of programs that would automatically redact information that is not public, thus saving the time and cost to pay someone to do so. [Orlando Sentinel]

Well this is welcome news …especially considering all of the Sunshine Law and public records issues we’ve been having at both the State and local levels.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , ,

Ronnie Fussell Coddles Lobbyists

This has previously been discussed here, and today Ron Littlepage takes on the decision by City Council President Ronnie Fussell to put a door back on the City Council’s Green Room:

Entrance to the sacred grounds of the Green Room is limited to council members, city staff and “invited guests.”

It’s understandable that council members may need a place to take a break during council meetings or take a cell phone call, but it’s the “invited guests” that are the problem.

A recent example: Port officials were yukking it up in the Green Room with council members who will decide whether to allow the port to build a cruise ship terminal at Mayport.

Those opposed are left on the outside looking in.

Fussell can fix the problem by limiting the Green Room to council members and staff.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , , , , , ,

Good for the goose…..

The Attorney General, Bill McCollum, is asking local governments, law enforcement agencies, and public school districts to do a better job at responding to public records requests and to live more Sunshine-y lives.  I see that the State Legislature is noticeably absent from McCollum’s call for transparency.  Granted Jacksonville hasn’t been the best at complying with the Sunshine Law, but the Legislature is even worse.  Wonder why he’s not concerned with them?  Or maybe this is a publicity stunt for a possible US Senate run?

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , ,

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