FL: Sarasota City Hall removal of kiosk containing access to city employees’ emails sparks debate

SARASOTA — Instant public access to the emails of hundreds of Sarasota city officials and employees has been restricted by the city in a move some citizens and public records experts call an abandonment of transparency and erosion of public trust.

The removal more than a year ago of a City Hall kiosk containing access to the emails of hundreds of city employees only recently gained attention after some commissioners discovered immediate access to the emails was revoked. Public access to emails is available online, but only a fraction of the previously viewable emails are shown, prompting an increase in public records requests, citizen complaints and questions about the city’s motives.

“Government should never be in the business of making it more difficult for citizens to find out how they are being governed,” said Michael Barfield, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and an expert on Florida’s Public Records Act and Sunshine Law.

“Generally, the city does a good job at being transparent, but in this case, it was a step back,” Barfield added.

The online portal shows only emails between two or more of the five elected commissioners, city manager, city attorney and city auditor and clerk. The state’s Sunshine Law, which prohibits elected officials from discussing public business outside of a public meeting, means there are likely no emails among commissioners. Read more…