For the last two years now, I have raised concerns about our local governing body’s lack of transparency and accountability to the public. There are many instances that can be cited to support this proposition at the city council level here in Boca Raton. These matters have raised serious question amongst the observing public as to the integrity of the governing process and, for the most part, have been dismissed or ignored by our policy making body, the City Council.
This phenomenon is not limited to our local government. Transparency and accountability matters are becoming prevalent at other levels of government as well. The people’s right to know, to access public records, is under siege by elected officials who find transparency and accountability intrusive to government; intrusive by the people that officials are elected to represent.
Last week, on February 6, 2017, the Sun Sentinel published an editorial titled “Kill bad bill on public records.” This editorial identifies a legislative bill being advanced in a Florida Senate committee that is designed to infringe on the public’s ability to access and review public records. This bill, introduced by State Senator Greg Steube of Saratoga, would amend state law that currently makes it mandatory for local governments to pay the legal fees to successful challenges that prove government has illegally withheld public records.
The proposed change would alter the language from “shall award attorney’s fees” to “may award attorney’s fees” making what is a mandatory award, a discretionary award; the discretion being placed with the judge hearing the case. The editorial rightly argues that “Having to pay someone’s attorney fees is really the only risk government officials face when they illegally block the public’s right to know.” To insert a discretionary element into the process will create a chilling effect on the public’s ability to hold government accountable. Public records often are the only window to transparency available when elected and/or administrative officials are less than willing to keep the public informed.
Please review the editorial below and consider contacting your state legislators to say ‘no’ to this change; to say that this proposed change is an unacceptable intrusion on the public’s need for transparency, accountability and integrity in the governmental process.
Al Zucaro, Publisher