We the People: What is a Public Record?

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In our democratic society, we directly decide who will be our leaders whether its inside the white house, the state capitol, right on down to your city hall.

We vote for them to represent us, but it is also up to us to hold them accountable-- and one of the best ways to do that is by using public records.

Eyewitness News Reporter John Rogers explores what a public record is in the first part of his series, 'We the People'.

We the People have the privilege of living in a free country-- where the democratically elected government answers to its citizens.

Our ancestors fought and died for our freedom and for our democratic government.

But we the people have a responsibility to keep that government accountable- from the highest levels in Washington to your own neighborhood.

ACLU Attorney Larry Spalding says, "Democracy functions best when there's openness and transparency."

And the sunshine state is a shining example. Floridians can keep a watchful eye on their leaders with the public records act.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum says, "Everybody in Florida has the right to have access to any document, any email, any record at all that's made or received in the course of transacting state business or city business or county business, government business in the state of Florida."

Florida Statutes define a 'public record' as all documents, papers, letters, books...any material that is made in connection with official business of any state agency.

Anyone in Florida can make a public records request...but it's not just a right, it promotes a free democracy.

Spalding says, "Politicians like to make deals and some of those deals are not always in the public interest."

Aside from keeping leaders accountable, public records can empower a citizen.

McCollum says, "They have a right to exercise a more intelligent voice in terms of going to hearings or meetings of government agencies or cities or county or school boards."

In Florida, accessing public records is both a right and a privilege.

The ACLU says a transparent government is an honest government....and Floridians themselves have the tools to make sure their leaders are being responsible-- but it's up to Floridians to use them.

The Florida Attorney General's Office has a website where you can learn more about the public records law.

You can visit the site by clicking on the link below.

On Tuesday, John Rogers will continue his series with a look into *how* you can access public records.

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