Ron Littlepage slams Jacksonville’s city government for transparency failings
By: A.G. GANCARSKI
Jacksonville’s Task Force on Open Government is slated to wrap up this month and one member — former Florida Times-Union columnist Ron Littlepage — offered a statement this week saying that when it came to open government, the city’s practices left something to be desired.“We’ve heard members of the [Lenny Curry] administration say they are following the law when it comes to releasing public records,” Littlepage wrote.“The administration may be following the letter of the law,” Littlepage added, “but certainly not the spirit of the law.”
Littlepage took issue with a practice of the Mayor’s Office regarding public records requests it deems to be sensitive.“Once a member of the public requests a public record that is deemed to be public,” Littlepage wrote, “there is no reason that the mayor’s chief administrative officer, chief of staff, and communications director should have to sign off before a record is released.”Littlepage noted that the administration interprets such delays as being “reasonable,” per statute. However, “extra time to alert political appointees” to a document’s release is not reasonable or compliant, he asserts.
The issue of communication between city government and reporters has become a flashpoint in recent months with national media outlets even taking notice, saying the city was applying exemptions to disclosure “like a ball peen hammer.”
Meanwhile, local media (disclosure: including this reporter) described to the task force “delays and unexpected costs associated with public records requests, which according to Florida Statute should be provided at a ‘reasonable’ cost in a ‘reasonable’ amount of time … some readily available public records appear to go through political review before being shared with the media, and the delays sometimes give the impression of being intentionally obstructive.”
Whether or not the task force recommendations lead to any legislative change remains to be seen, as Council President-designate Aaron Bowman aligns with Curry much more than the current Council President does; however, if legislators were inclined to expanding transparency, Littlepage’s statement offers even more guidance in that direction.