An article published by the Tampa Bay Times on October 28, 2012 entitled “Religious exemption at some Florida children’s homes shields prying eyes” tells the story of dozens of homes for troubled youth which are operated with little or no regulation throughout Florida. As one might reasonably imagine, placing vulnerable children in the hands of folks who answer only to God in an isolated setting is pretty much a guarantee for all manner of horrors.
While the article is disturbing, it also serves as a reminder as to why access to government records is so important. I understand some folks think I’m a jackass because I demand that state and local government agencies (and those acting on their behalf) comply with the Florida Constitution and allow the public access to records. Sure, sometimes I only demand access to see what will happen. But those audits are what reveal non-compliance. And non-compliance serves to frustrate access and allow folks to operate in the shadows. The only folks that hate the sunshine are those with something to hide.
It is true that most of the records I receive by making public records requests are entirely uninteresting, but those requests, and the litigation that follows when access is denied, are what strengthen access for records like those used to research the article linked above. To be clear, I take no credit for the fine article published by the Tampa Bay Times. But to a very large degree those who have fought for open government in Florida for the past 100 plus years (most notably newspapers) surely do deserve the credit for our right to know. As the economic fortunes of traditional media diminish, it will become increasingly necessary for regular folks to stand in the gap and continue to push back against those who want to spread shadows instead of sunshine.
This Tampa Times Article is another example of why we need more open government.