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

Open-Carry Gun Bill Bangs Into Business Concerns

Several lawmakers in both parties and an influential business group expressed concerns about the potential impact of the proposal on private property rights.

Sofia DeCerce, 21, a senior studying health education and behavior, and Lindsay Pearl, 19, a sophomore studying health science discuss programs GatorWell offers with Ronit Dastidar, 19, a microbiology sophomore. "People are going to keep doing what they're doing, but it's important to make sure that they're informed to the correct way to do those activities," Dastidar said.

Florida Ranked 47th In Sexual Health, Could Be Due To Educational Lack

Florida ranked 47th in the United States for sexual health by the State by State Safer Sex Index. Melissa St. Onge, communications manager for Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida, said she was not surprised to hear Florida ranked so low on the survey, and that sexual health conversations should start at home and continue with education in class.

Survey: Floridians Oppose Guns On Campus

Almost three-quarters of Floridians — 73 percent — oppose allowing students with concealed-weapons permits to carry guns on campus.


Judge Refuses to Stop Florida Black Bear Hunt

A Leon County judged ruled that Florida’s first black bear hunt in 21 years will indeed happen. The ruling says that a state wildlife agency was within its right to schedule the hunt.

The existing seal of the  Florida state senate. A committee is reviewing whether the Confederate flag should be removed.

Florida’s Senators Consider Removing Confederate Flag From State Senate Seal

The Senate Rules Committee will meet Oct. 8 to begin re-examining the current emblem of the chamber. Under Senate rules, the seal includes “a fan of the five flags which have flown over Florida” — those of the United States, Confederate States of America, France, Great Britain and Spain.

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
Underwriting Payments