In Florida, your reason for wanting records doesn’t matter

Joel Chandler was last week’s STOTW.

Someone who leaves as her website address one of the schools in the Polk County School District left a comment on our post.

The comment says:

“Thanks for wasting taxpayer money and school district employee time. And for the worry of about 75% of the school district employees who are wondering who int he world wants to know where we live and why!? Find something better to do with your time, Sir!

In Florida, according to the ever-useful Open Government Guide:

“Florida does not require requesters to demonstrate a special or legitimate interest in a document in order to secure the right of inspection under Chapter 119. Thus, mere curiosity or even blatant commercial interest do not vest in either the courts or the records custodian discretion to deny inspection.”

That’s what the law is, and it’s pretty clear–which is why the Polk County School District has been ordered to pay Mr. Chandler’s legal fees after they denied his request.

However, just because that’s what the law is, doesn’t mean that the law intuitively makes sense to people who work for the government whose records become public as a result of the law.

Back in October, I wrote about my experiences asking for records in person as part of a larger FOIA audit I was a tiny part of. In nearly every case, the records custodian asked me why I wanted the records, even though in Wisconsin, they really shouldn’t ask that…although the law in Wisconsin is not as clear as Florida’s on that point. It’s only natural to wonder WHY someone wants a particular record.

With this in mind, it would be really helpful if public agencies provided regular orientation sessions for their employees on what the sunshine law is in their state. If the motive of the records requestor is irrelevant under the law, public employees should be informed about that and educated on why that is.

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