Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Learning about Sunshine

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Learning about Sunshine

Article excerpt

Public officials should take time to study Florida's open- government laws

Everyone in Florida knows about sunshine.

And a lot of Floridians -- especially those in government and the media -- know something about the state's Government-in-the- Sunshine and Public Records laws.

But too few folks -- including those elected to public office, selected to serve on advisory boards or employed as staff -- know how to follow the letter of the laws.

Legions of appointed and elected officials, as well as government employees, closely follow and respect the laws, adhering to the requirements that meetings be open to the public and most records readily available for inspection.

However, others flout the laws, some are careless (or clueless) and many others -- particularly those who assume voluntary advisory roles -- are unaware of the complexities of the statutes and best practices for following them.

Unfortunately, violations of the laws in our region have been exposed with troubling frequency -- due in part to aggressive inquiries by citizens groups and a law firm specializing in such litigation.

State's laws are strict

Some community members are concerned that zealous pursuit of potential violations discourages citizens from participating in local government. That concern is understandable.

Yet the laws are the laws.

The Government-in-the-Sunshine-Law is covered under Chapter 286 of Florida Statutes. In essence, it requires that a wide range of government meetings be open to the public, properly advertised in advance and recorded in minutes.

The Public Records Law, Chapter 119, grants broad access to government documents, reports, emails, data and the like.

Florida's laws are among the most strict in the nation; their depth and breadth often take newcomers to the state by surprise. Both laws have exceptions, and are amended almost yearly by the state Legislature. …

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