We're going to get a week's jump on "Sunshine Sunday" this year because our new governor has come up with an interesting way to stymie the press - and the public.
In the wake of journalist complaints that Gov. Rick Scott has excluded the press from events previously open to the media; has tried to choose the "pool" reporters to be admitted to events he decides the media can attend; has been slow to respond to public records requests; and has placed a gag order on agency administrators, the governor issued Thursday a new set of fees to be charged by the state for public documents.
It seems the new gov is troubled by the need to process "... a tremendous increase in public records requests," and so has ordered "cost recovery charges" be assessed on records that will take state staffers more than half an hour to retrieve, review and possibly redact.
Given the snail's pace at which public records are produced, that's likely to be pretty much all except those on line and the most routine or minimal in scope.
Gov. Scott has unilaterally mandated fees equivalent to the hourly wages for clerical or supervisory assistance to include "searching for and or locating the requested record, reviewing for statutorily exempt information, deletion of statutorily exempt information, and preparing, copying, and re-filing of the requested record."
His legal standing is based on a provision in the Public Records statutes pertaining to "extensive fees" that reads: "If the nature or volume of public records requested to be inspected or copied pursuant to this subsection is such as to require extensive use of information technology resources or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance by personnel of the agency involved, or both, the agency may charge, in addition to the actual cost of duplication, a special service charge, which shall be reasonable and shall be based on the cost incurred for such extensive use of information technology resources or the labor cost of the personnel providing the service that is actually incurred by the agency or attributable to the agency for the clerical and supervisory assistance required, or both."
"Extensive" is not defined and so the provision has been grossly abused throughout the state with agencies defining extensive in various ways. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, a pro-Government-in-the-Sunshine advocate, imposed no formal policy for the add-on fees at all, officials said Friday. At the other extreme, some local agencies throughout the state have set the bar at 15 minutes or less.
Gov. Scott's interpretation comes in at the short end of the time scale as do similar fee structures in the city of Cape Coral and Lee County.
Freedom of information advocates tried very hard to get the fee discrepancies addressed and the time element defined last year but the bill failed in the Senate and never was voted on in the House.
So here we are with public access to records taking another hard hit although the governor's office provided neither request numbers nor costs to justify the edict that will make records much harder to obtain by the very people who have already paid for them, the taxpayers of Florida.
Gov. Scott assures us he is for transparency in government. We agree, he certainly is - anyone can see through this one.
We invite our readers to tell Gov. Scott's Office what you think.
He may be reached at.
Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
400 S. Monroe St.
- Breeze editorial