Hugh Taylor: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

It’s not easy being a Sunshine Troublemaker.

Sunshine Troublemakers are the courageous people who persist when others would give up. They are people who are willing to tolerate rebuke and scorn in order to protect the public’s right to know.

With that in mind, allow me to introduce Hugh Taylor, the winner of this week’s increasingly coveted and prestigious STOTW Award.

Hugh has upset Ed Brimner, one of five members of the Wakulla County Board of Commissioners.

Here’s what happened.

Mr. Taylor is a part-time resident of Wakulla County in Florida. (It’s the red splotch in that map, in the Florida panhandle.)

About 23,000 people live in Wakulla County. Mr. Taylor and his wife have purchased a cabin there. They’re fixing it up to be a retirement home.

hugh-house.jpg

 On Sunday afternoons, after a weekend of cabin restoration, Mr. Taylor and his wife would like to take a dip at the Shell Point Beach, which is owned by Wakulla County.

However, their hopeful visits to Shell Point Beach were often met with “beach closed” signs. Hugh started filing open records requests under Florida sunshine law to figure out why.

In pursuit of information about the closed beaches, one type of record Hugh wanted was emails written by some of the county commissioners. He thought these emails might help him understand how development decisions affecting the beach were made. Hugh received those emails, which apparently included a number of emails that one of the county commissioners, Ed Brimner, would have regarded as private–although, evidently, not private enough that Mr. Brimner used his own computer and email server to send and receive them.

When Hugh got those emails, he also got the email addresses of the people with whom Commissioner Brimner corresponded via email using his government computer and server. Hugh sent those email contacts one email–I’ve seen a copy–where he politely but firmly disagreed with representations he knew Commissioner Brimner had made about a friend.

In the eyes of Commissioner Brimner, this makes Hugh a pest who from now on will be charged what I’d consider to be rather excessive fees for his open records requests.

In my mind, though, Hugh is a heroic Sunshine Troublemaker. I salute him, I’m proud to welcome him to the ranks of STOTWs, and I think his idea that STOTW award winners deserve at least a T-shirt is the best idea I’ve heard all month. 

I will also take this occasion to give some free advice to Commissioner Brimner:

  • It really isn’t that hard to provide copies of your emails.
  • If you act like it’s harder than it really is, people will wonder what you are trying to hide.
  • If you didn’t want your previous private emails to be FOIAable under Florida’s laws, you shouldn’t have sent them on a government computer. Don’t expect people to feel sorry for you.
  • If you want to promote transparency and trust in Wakulla County, consider automatically posting carbon copies of all your official emails to a county website in real time.
  • As the Society of Professional Journalists has noted, it’s a red flag when you comment on the motives of those who ask for public records, as you do when you say that those who want copies of your emails are on a “witch hunt” and a “fishing expedition”.  Cut that out.
  • wakulla-county.jpg

    When Hugh’s adventures in FOIA-land help him figure out how zoning and beach and development decisions are made in Wakulla County–the original subject that started him down this path–we’ll give our readers an update.

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    3 responses to “Hugh Taylor: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

    1. Pingback: State Sunshine and Open Records

    2. This is just the most recent in a long series of efforts by Mr. Taylor to open up Wakulla County government. He does what he does with great dedication and a wicked sense of humor. It’s great to see that his tireless work is finally being recognized.

      Let the sun shine in!

    3. Pingback: Interview: Sunshine Activist Hugh Taylor «

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