We at Watchdog Wire – Florida know that politicians change their behavior when they know the citizenry is watching.
That’s why Watchdog Wire and the Franklin Center are participating in Sunshine Week (March 10-16), a nationwide initiative focused on the importance of access to public information. We’ll be featuring articles and resources on FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), state open records law, and other transparency efforts all week.
Sunshine Review evaluates how transparent local and state governments are via a grading system. Florida’s cities, counties, school boards and the state all received a grade of “B”.
Recently, Enterprise Florida, the Florida Public Service Commission and Citizen’s Insurance have come under fire for their lack of transparency. Floridians frequently wake up and read about violations of Florida’s sunshine laws at the city, county, school board and state agency level.
The common thread to each of these violations is a lack of sunshine in the sunshine state.
For example, did you know that State lawmakers have no power to require the Governor or Cabinet members to meet in public when they are exercising their constitutional administrative duties or acting as a policy-making board related by the Legislature, such as the State Board of Education. For instance, the governor’s deliberations with Cabinet members about whether to grant a pardon or clemency are not covered by the Sunshine Law because they involve constitutional duties, not statutory duties.
Sunshine Review notes, “The Florida Sunshine Law is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to the public records of governmental bodies in Florida. The law was first enacted in 1995. The original statutes state:
The Florida Open Meetings Law (Fla. Stat. sec 286) governs the extent to which public meetings are open to the public. The Florida Public Records Law (Fla. Stat. sec. 119) governs the inspection and copying of public records.
The University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information has a useful list of frequently asked questions:
1. When did Florida begin its tradition of openness?
2. What is the Sunshine Law?
3. What changed after the Constitutional Amendment in 1992 was approved?
4. How does the Sunshine Law work?
5. Who does the Sunshine Law apply to?
6. Which government bodies does the Sunshine Law cover?
7. What types of advisory committees have the Florida courts found to be subject to the Sunshine Law?
8. Which committees are exempt from the Sunshine Law?
9. Does the Sunshine Law Apply to the Governor and Cabinet?
10. What Legislative meetings are covered by the Sunshine Law?
11. What activities are covered by the Sunshine Law?
12. Are there exemptions to the Sunshine Law?
13. Are private organizations covered by the Sunshine Law?
14. Is a private organization that receives public funds subject to the requirements of the Sunshine Law?
15. Who is responsible for attorney’s fees when there is a lawsuit over the Sunshine Law?
To help you as a citizen prepare to hold your government accountable, we’ve compiled a list of action items that empower you to shine a light on government waste and abuse in your own communities:
1. Figure out FOIA here: Florida FOIA procedures
2. Embrace money-tracking tools
3. Check visitor logs and daily schedules
4. Investigate stimulus dollars in your area
5. Dig deeper into ObamaCare repercussions
6. Track state pensions
7. Report on a local transparency hero
Click here to read the full list of transparency tips and report back your findings on Watchdog Wire. We will list your story in our special Sunshine Report featuring all citizen research and writing. E-mail your ideas, tips and questions to me at Florida@WatchdogWire.com. If you want to write for Watchdog Wire – Florida, sign up here!
Here’s to an open and more accountable government.