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

Florida Gun Supply

CAIR Florida Files Lawsuit Against “Muslim-Free” Gun Store

Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit against Florida Gun Supply in Inverness, Fla. after Andy Hallinan, the owner, declared his store a “Muslim-Free Zone.” Activists question what this policy implicates for all individuals who can be culturally profiled as Muslims in Florida.


CAPTION

Florida Leads Country In Boating Accidents, Deaths

Florida had 577 boating accidents in 2014 and 67 boating deaths, leading the country in both categories. With the large number of boats registered in Florida, some people advocate for stricter boating laws.


Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville is one of the few breweries located in North Central Florida. The tasting room allows customers to try the different craft beers the brewery has to offer.

Craft Beer Scene In North Central Florida Booms

The number of craft beer breweries in the state of Florida is rising. The state’s tourism industry is helping to increase the popularity of craft beer.


John Peterson, 23, owner of World Honey Market, pulls a frame of
bees out of a hive body to check on honey production. He said he produced close to 
30,000 lbs. of honey in 2013, but only produced half of that in 2014, which he 
attributed to a shortage of nectar in the area.

Florida Bee Populations Growing, Not Necessarily Thriving

While bee populations in Florida show some growth, some factors still keep them from flourishing. Land loss, overcrowding and herbicides pose problems for the bees and the beekeepers.


Scott Richardson, 52, co-owner of Northwest Seafood Inc., fillets fresh-caught red grouper purchased from one of Northwest Seafood’s trusted fisherman in Yankeetown, Florida. “It pays to know your fish man,” said Lee Deaderick, Richardson’s business partner.

Florida Fishermen Face Fierce Competition

Florida fisherman are concerned with the growing taste for imported fish. As imports from other countries increase, questions of ethics and safety are floating to the surface.


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