We the People: What is a Public Record?

By: John Rogers Email
By: John Rogers Email

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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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Katie Location: Volusia County on Aug 15, 2011 at 09:03 AM
    It is also illegal to ask for name identification on a request for public records. You can remain anonymous.
  • by MuzzledinFlaglerCty on Aug 12, 2011 at 01:13 PM
    What about a citizen's right to defend themselves in a court of law? In Flagler County the prosecutor refuses to communicate with defendants for purposes of discovery or plea bargains or ANY TYPE OF COMMUNICATION unless they are represented by a lawyer or PD. He will only speak with lawyers and this has been announced in open court with full support from the judge. I may not have a law degree but I can research statutes and provide a defense with full knowledge that I cannot then use "inadequate representation" as a basis for appeal. Isn't this my right as a US citizen? As long as I respect and follow courtroom etiquette and ensure my case is based on admissible evidence without hearsay or other nonsense, don't my First Amendment Rights apply in Flagler County?? Apparently not ~ just check the dockets.
  • by native Location: n fla on Jul 27, 2009 at 04:14 PM
    Yes John, please tell us Tuesday the process of accessing records. Please include all you can find about how some government offices try to delay and disuade the citizen from getting records and be sure to explain that ALL offices will likely charge a fee for each page of each document you want. This information is NOT free !
  • by TaylorCountyCitizen on Jul 27, 2009 at 02:56 PM
    One oversight in the law is that records that are identified by government employees as NOT being being made "in connection with official business" aren't public record, even when taxpayer-owned equipment was used to create them. That means that while it's technically against the law for government employees to, say, use taxpayer-funded computers for personal e-mail messages, the public is not entitled by law to see those messages even when they do exist...
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