This is the ninth in our series of interviews with Sunshine Activists. Our Sunshine Activist this week is Hugh Taylor, who lives in Leon and Wakulla counties in Florida.
We got to know Hugh a couple months ago when he was our Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week.
This interview gives a broader picture of Hugh’s FOIA activism. Enjoy!
- What year did you file your first open records request?
- What documents were you looking for?
Innocuous stuff–Employment information.
- Did you get those documents?
- Charles Davis of the National Freedom of Information Coalition has talked about having “a FOI moment”. Have you had “a FOI moment” and can you describe it?
I’ve had a couple, so I guess those sorts of things Mr. Davis speaks to keep me going (and digging). But on my first, I left a phoney name but a correct phone number because I had heard how weird things were in this place I requested my information. When I went back, there was a 3m sticky on the cover sheet, with our address, phone number and my wife’s name (we don’t have the same last names) — they had looked us up in a cross-index directory. I was very upset. Why in the world and all that, right? Under the circumstances, the only reason I know of would be to attempt to intimidate.
- What is the worst (or funniest or most obstructionist or most outrageous) reply you’ve ever received?
Nothing very funny. I’ve had every response.
- How quickly do you generally receive replies to a request?
Sometimes very quickly, but sometimes never. You (meaning me) have to pick your shots. I don’t know yet where that will be.
- About how many open records requests have you filed?
Not all that many. But the responses have run the gamut. That’s the most interesting part–Charles Davis was right; It’s every excuse under the sun when they don’t want to give the information and use citizen’s legal attempts to gain information to marginalize folks.
- How do you let your friends, neighbors or the local media know about the documents you get?
Mostly electronically. Generally I copy the FOIA people and the media now. The local Gannett paper, the Tallahassee Democrat, ran one story, but has not followed up.
- Have you run into any trouble as the result of filing open records requests?
Just the things I’ve mentioned. There have been attempts to intimidate me but the push back hasn’t yet been too bad.
- What’s the most significant political outcome that has resulted from the work you do?
Nothing yet. I/we are facing the gradual closing off of government. Next year will be the elections so we expect things to get worse.
- Has your local newspaper ever commented on the work you do? Favorably or unfavorably?
Yes, got a nice article from the Democrat, and one pretty complimentary commentary in a column, but I thought we’d get a bit more help/publicity. The news arc is very short, reporters are overworked, and “why can’t we all get along?” is the phrase of the year, it seems.
- What’s your best advice for other “Sunshine Activists”?
- What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?
To be born rich enough to fight these guys.
- If you could change your state’s open records law just one way, what would that change be?
To resolve the question of personal emails. Florida case law says that personal email is exempt from the sunshine law, even using state owned machines, servers, all that. The rule, to my mind, should be that have at all the personal emails you want, but those emails are fair game to the public.
- Do you participate in any formal way in organizations that promote the freedom of information cause?
- Are you willing to have other “sunshine activists” from your state get in touch with you?
Thank you very much, Hugh.
Readers are welcome and encouraged to contact Hugh via e-mail.