Manatee County commission confusion over Sunshine?

September 14, 2013 

Manatee County Commissioners at the August public hearing on Long Bar Pointe PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

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Curiously, some Manatee County commissioners expressed confusion about portions of Florida's Sunshine-in-the-Government Law and requested a legal briefing at this week's commission meeting. County legal staff will present a training session, with one particular concern about texting and emailing about county business.

Every elected official should be well versed in the law upon taking office or soon thereafter. This is not rocket science.

And the Sunshine manual is not a state secret. Posted online by the attorney general's office at www.myflsunshine.com, the introduction states: "This website is designed to help government agencies, the media and private citizens understand Florida's Open Government and Public Records laws.

"Government must be accountable to the people. The Florida Constitution, which sets forth our rights as citizens of this great state, provides that the public has the right to know how government officials spend taxpayer dollars and make the decisions affecting their lives. The principle of open government is one that must guide everything done in government for its public."

Alas, elected officials continue to break the public records and open government law -- either foolishly or deliberately.

Just late last month, Orange County's mayor and four county commissioners were each socked with a $500 civil fine for deleting text message from lobbyists on their phones. In his report, the state attorney on the case pointed out the five officials did not know those kinds of text message are public records.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. And in cases like these, it's alarming.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore has the right idea:

She shoots images of text messages she gets on her smartphone and forwards the pictures to her official email account, thereby ensuring their preservation and eliminating the possibility of losing them.

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