WUFT News

First Amendment Foundation says redacting state-owned cellphone records ‘legally invalid’

By on April 12th, 2013

The Florida Public Service Commission is refusing to release telephone records of its members involving calls it says are private, despite a court ruling that all such records are public.

The telephone records are important because WUFT News is investigating whether commission members have been unduly influenced by the industries they regulate — and whether favoritism has affected the electricity bills Floridians pay.

The Public Service Commission insists that phone calls it deems private are not subject to the state’s sunshine laws requiring government agencies to conduct their business in public.

However, the Florida 7th Circuit Court ruled in 2010 that even private phone calls made by public officials on publicly provided cellphones are public record.

That ruling was cited by the Florida First Amendment Foundation, which upon a request from WUFT News, sent a letter to the Public Service Commission on Thursday declaring its reluctance to release phone records “legally invalid”

Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth wrote in an opinion that records of phone calls made on “equipment owned or leased by” state agencies are subject to disclosure, even when “the costs of the personal telephone calls are being reimbursed.”

On Feb. 14, WUFT requested billing records associated with the state-owned cellphones of Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar and her chief aide Roberta Bass. Both Edgar and Bass — under the guidance of Curt Kiser, general counsel for the commission — labeled calls as “personal” on the phone records, which the clerk’s office then redacted.

Kiser has not returned messages from Thursday afternoon and Friday morning for comment. 

At the time of the initial request, he responded via email:

“The Florida Public Service Commission does not provide information concerning employees’ personal telephone calls because personal telephone calls do not meet the definition of ‘public record’ and for that reason are not subject to disclosure.”

This is not the first time the commission has been challenged for redacting personal calls. In September 2010, the Sun Sentinel printed a public records request from an anonymous resident asking for the cellphone records of multiple PSC commissioners and staff members, including Roberta Bass.

Eventually, commission released the un-redacted records after pressure from open government advocates. Kiser said Bass agreed to release the personal calls, even though the commission’s interpretation of the Public Records Act did not require her to do so.

 


This entry was posted in Florida and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
 

More Stories in Florida

Program Gives Foster Youths Chance For More Normal Life

A recent pilot program is making it easier for young people in foster care to earn a driver’s license and insurance for them to achieve a more normal life.


Police Identify Shooter as FSU Alumnus

The gunman who shot three people at Florida State University’s library early Thursday before being killed by police was a lawyer who graduated from the school, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.


Undated arrest photo of Chadwick Banks.

Chadwick Banks Executed By Lethal Injection For Double-Murder

Chadwick Banks became the 20th person executed under Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday. The 43-year-old was put to death after being convicted in the 1992 slaying of his wife, Cassandra Banks, as well as the rape and murder of his 10-year-old stepdaughter, Melody Cooper. Eighty-nine people have been put to death in Florida since executions resumed in the state in 1979.


Pastor Zach Zehnder of theCross Church in Mount Dora speaks to the crowd in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for world’s longest speech marathon. Zehnder ultimately spoke for more than 53 hours.

Mount Dora Pastor Attempts To Break Guinness World Record For Longest Speech

A Mount Dora pastor may have broken the Guinness World Record for the Longest Speech Marathon. The speech, which lasted over 53 hours, was used to raise money for a local cause.


(From left) Mitch Holeve celebrates Garrett "G-Money" Holeve's victory against David "Cerebral Assassin" on Saturday night. G-Money won by submission.

MMA Fighter G-Money Victorious Over Cerebral Assassin

Mixed martial artists Garrett “G-Money” Holeve and David “Cerebral Assasin” Steffan fought on Saturday in Sullivan, Missouri. G-Money defeated his opponent in their much anticipated bout by submission in the second round.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Day Sponsorship Payments
Underwriting Payments