Sunshine Week Raises Questions About Transparency - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Sunshine Week Raises Questions About Transparency

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Bay County, Fla. -

As journalists, it is our duty to hold government accountable. One of the tools used are public records. Florida has some of the broadest public records laws in the nation and this week the country celebrates Sunshine Week, an initiative that promotes open government and freedom of information for everyone.

News 13 surveyed 8 government entities in Bay County to see how they scored on transparency. For the most part, they are following the laws that bind them.

Most official business, with the exception of legal and private information like the addresses of police officers are public records. Exceptions and the proper protocol can be found in the latest Government in the Sunshine Manual.

"The state of Florida has tremendous public records laws. As a journalist it is extremely important to have access to those things." Bay County Public Information Officer Valerie Sale said.

Equally important, the sunshine laws provide people the opportunity to also request information; one of the most common requests is meeting agendas.

Seven out of eight post their agendas to their website; however only half provide the back up items voluntarily. Panama City is among the group.

"We try to put whatever people might want to use." Panama City Clerk Terri Lillard said.

News 13's Andrew Ruiz asked, "By law are you required to put all this online?"  "Not all of it, no." Lillard replied.

In Parker, a public records request revealed that Mayor Tonya Barrow is denying easy access to public records. A memo sent in December by the City Clerk, Nancy Rowell, to the city council alerts the council of Barrow's request.

"The Mayor feels that the amount of materials being copied and presented for non-Council persons is too extensive and has asked that meeting materials be provided only to the Council. This had been the practice for years but I had begun providing all materials to all parties noticed. Unless I hear differently from you, materials will only be available upon request by the media or the public."   

This position is against, Rich Musgrave's beliefs', a candidate for Parker Mayor. "I don't agree with that position. Any time someone is hesitant to provide information that should be made available, unfortunately the perception on the part of the citizens would be something along the line, why not?" Musgrave said.

We asked Rowell if the city would accrue any additional expense for uploading agenda back-up materials to their website. She said no.

Mayor Barrow denied News 13's request for an on camera interview, but she did tell us the public records issue hasn't been discussed before and now might be the time to do so.

Panama City who scored high on transparency, and says it's important for them to be. "I do think that it's important and that first of all, it puts us on notice. People can have all kinds of reasons to make the request and that's really not our business. The business is that we let them know what's going on with the city." Lillard said. 

 


 

PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST POLICIES

*Public records request are usually handled by the City Clerk. Their contact information can be found by clicking the name of the city surveyed. *

 

BAY COUNTY

-Most, if not many public documents can be found online. You may also try here

-Videos of the past commission meetings are also stored online.

-Written, electronic and verbal request are acceptable.

-The fee for request depends on the amount of time it takes to collect the request, and if you require a hard copy, you may be charged $0.15 pp.

-Electronic copies are free.

 

PANAMA CITY

-Written, electronic and verbal request are acceptable.

-The fee for request depends on the amount of time it takes to collect the request, and if you require a hard copy, you may be charged $0.15 pp.

-Electronic copies are free. Most, if not many public documents can be found online.

 

PARKER

-Written, electronic and verbal request are acceptable.

-The fee for request depends on the amount of time it takes to collect the request, and if you require a hard copy, you may be charged $0.15 pp or $0.20 for front-back.

-Electronic copies are free.

 

CALLAWAY

-Written, electronic and verbal request are acceptable.

-The fee for request depends on the amount of time it takes to collect the request, and if you require a hard copy, you may be charged $0.15 pp or $0.20 for front-back.

-Electronic copies are free.

-If your request requires more than 30 minutes to process, you may be charged for the hourly rate of the least paid employee. 

 

PANAMA CITY BEACH

- Written, electronic and verbal request are acceptable, but prefer the request be made in writing.

-The fee for request depends on the amount of time it takes to collect the request, and if you require a hard copy, you may be charged $0.15 pp.

-Electronic copies are free.

 

MEXICO BEACH 

-Written, electronic and verbal request are acceptable.

-The fee for request depends on the amount of time it takes to collect the request, and if you require a hard copy, you may be charged $0.15 pp.

-Electronic copies are free.

 

LYNN HAVEN

-Written, electronic and verbal request are acceptable.

-The fee for request depends on the amount of time it takes to collect the request.

-Copies can be picked up at City Hall; you may be charged $0.15 pp.

 

SPRINGFIELD

-Written and electronic request are acceptable. A form is available at city hall.

-The fee for request depends on the amount of time it takes to collect the request, and if you require a hard copy, you may be charged $0.15 pp.