Naples Daily News
September 13, 2010

Eyes Only: Florida might be corrupt, but at least it’s open

By Peter Gaddy

Is political corruption on the rise? Florida is probably a good place to search for an answer to the question, since we rank No. 1 in political corruption convictions, according to the Justice Department.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Florida tops “…Illinois and even Louisiana, where politicians are said to be so crooked they are screwed into the ground at burial.”

Corruption is difficult to measure statistically because it covers so many different sins. One way to gauge a trend in the corruption level would be to conduct a poll. Kessler International, a firm that specializes in uncovering both private and public indiscretions, recently conducted such an online poll. The question posed was, “Do you think political and governmental corruption is on the rise?” Respondents were given several options: most definitely, probably, probably not, certainly not, and not sure. The results were quite easy to tabulate, 100 percent of the respondents chose “most definitely,” and no respondents chose any of the other options.

Political and governmental corruption is a serious issue. It undermines our entire constitutional system while punishing those that play by the rules. Florida recognized the significances of corruption in 1967 when the most expansive public records law in the nation was enacted, it is known as the “Sunshine Law.” The statement of legislative intent couldn’t be clearer: “It is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records shall at all times be open for a personal inspection by any person.” Other aspects of the law require that public meeting be open to the public. The idea behind sunshine laws are that the more transparency in government, the less likely are nefarious public officials to cross the line.

How well the Sunshine Laws have worked is open to debate, but most observers say they have been very effective in Florida. The fact is that some politicians are scared to death of the Sunshine Law. Witness Fred Coyle’s recent emotional meltdown at a recent Collier County Commission meeting devoted to approving the Jackson Labs deal. When a private citizen, John Lundin, attempted to point out what he believed to be a violation of the Sunshine Law, Coyle told him to sit down, and when he refused, Coyle recessed the proceedings in a prior restraint of Lundin’s First Amendment free speech rights, which hasn’t been seen since the early dark days of the civil rights movement. Lundin was eventually permitted to continue with his statement.

One of the problems with making public records requests is the sheer volume of information that our bloated government bureaucracies have amassed. When making a public records request it is usually wise to keep the scope of the request as narrow as possible. For example if you request an official’s cell phone bill, make a request for one or two months, rather than request years of records.

There is an opportunity right here in Collier to learn all the ins and outs of the Sunshine Law. On Sept. 28, 2010, the Naples Daily News will host a seminar on the Sunshine Law which will be conducted by Barbara Peterson, president of the First Amendment Foundation. You can register by calling 800-337-3518. The fee of $25 includes a Sunshine Law manual. Government officials and employees get a discount. I hope they attend.

Kessler gets definitive answers.

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