Recently the Sentinel reported that prosecutors were looking at possible violations of Florida's "Government in the Sunshine" laws by public officials in Maitland. Its City Council is the latest among several Central Florida public agencies in recent years whose members have been investigated for violating open meetings or open records requirements. We conducted an email interview with one of Florida's leading open government advocates, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen, to get some perspective. Excerpts of that interview follow. A longer version is online at OrlandoSentinel.com/opinion.
Q: How common are Sunshine law investigations around the state?
A: I think investigations are fairly common, although such investigations rarely lead to charges being filed. Textgate is, I believe, a good example. The [Orange-Osceola] state attorney had found that the text messages, which were clearly public records, had been deleted and/or destroyed [by Orange County commissioners in 2012], which is a violation of law. But criminal charges weren't filed against the offending public officials.
Q: Have there been well-known prosecutions in the past for Sunshine law violations? Continue>>>