BayNews 9 Covers FOGWatch In-Person Audits


Screen Shot 2013-01-22 at 7.27.36 PMYesterday a television news crew tagged along with me while I did a short in-person audit of several public agencies in Lakeland. Rick Elmhorst of BayNews 9 asked if he and his cameraman, Calvin, could shadow me as I did my thing.

It was a very short audit, so we only visited three agencies.

The first was the Peterson state building in downtown Lakeland, which is operated by the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS). This was the first time, in my experience, that personnel at a DMS facility have responded lawfully to a public records requests. It was refreshing and I can hope that it is a harbinger of things to come. Ironically, while the DMS folks had no problem producing public records they freaked out about the news crew.

From the Peterson building we walked a couple of blocks to the Lakeland Police Department, where I asked to inspect the visitor’s log. As usual the visitor’s log was situated on a counter where any person could see and touch it. I asked the desk clerk if I could inspect and photograph the records. In the usual fashion (this is the case in about 70% of agencies) they acted like I was asking to review the nuclear launch codes.

Eventually, cooler heads prevailed at the LPD and a very polite Captain John Thomason allowed me to insect and photograph the records. Although the production of records was unlawfully tardy, the gracious demeanor of Captain Thomason was greatly appreciated.

Captain Thomason’s response to my public records request is an excellent example to other agencies. Not infrequently, I am met by folks who do not fully understand their obligations under Florida’s Public Records Act. I am not looking for minor technical violations of public records laws because significant violations are not hard to find. There is, therefore, no shortage of opportunities to litigate. Perhaps the biggest factor in determining whether litigation follows is the attitude of the public official. If I get so much as a whiff of someone trying to do the right thing, I WILL NOT SUE. Being cordial, like Captain Thomason was, is a huge factor and an inexpensive way for public agencies to avoid wasting tax dollars. So, kudos to Captain John Thomason.

The third agency we visited was the Purchasing Department for the City of Lakeland. The office upstairs was an easy pass. I asked to inspect the vendor’s visitor’s log and was given immediate access. Downstairs, however, it was a train-wreck.

Outside of the City of Lakeland Purchasing Department I saw a guard shack at the entrance to a truck-yard. Outside of the guard shack was a sign which read “Check In.”

As I approached the guard shack I was “greeted” by a man whose uniform indicated that he was an employee of a private contractor that provides security services on behalf of the City of Lakeland. I immediately announced that “I’m here to make a public records request. I’d like to inspect and photograph the visitor’s log.” The response was almost comical, were it not for the fact that it was such an egregious violation of Florida law.

What followed was a three-ring circus. Threats of arrest were made; supervisors were called; Kevin Cook, the spokesman for the City of Lakeland arrived on scene; and the police arrived. All, of course was caught on camera.

In the end, after a about a one hour delay, I was allowed to inspect and photograph the records. To his great credit, the Lakeland Police office who arrived on scene did a splendid job of deescalating the situation. He also saved the City of Lakeland several thousand dollars in legal fees.

Over all it was a fun audit. It would appear that public records compliance in Lakeland is getting better. There is, however, still lots of room for improvement.

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16 Responses to BayNews 9 Covers FOGWatch In-Person Audits

  1. Jake says:

    Requesting public records is fine, but I was walking across the street when I saw this happen. You didn’t just ask for records you tried to enter an area that clearly even I could see was off limits. That is why they threatened to have you arrested because you tried to get inside the place instead of waiting. For all the knew you could have been there to blow up the place

    • Well, Jake, that’s just a big steaming pile of horseshit. If you were really there then you know that the gate was open and there was a big sign at the guard shack with the words “Check In.” It was physically arranged so that one would have to walk through the gate to get to the door of the guard shack where “Officer Friendly” was situated. In fact, Kevin Cook, spokesmen for the City of Lakeland later acknowledged that any reasonable person would have walked up to the guard shack just as I did. And I did wait…for almost an hour to inspect records that could have been produced within a few seconds.

    • laura smith says:

      yada yada blah blah blah. This ‘blow the place up’ is how they are trying to neuter ALL civil rights. Shush. You make yourself look dopey.

  2. Mike says:

    Walk softly and carry a camera crew I say! Amazing how the fear of the public seeing them violate the law changes their minds. Might be a project for you and Carlos to tag-team!

  3. laura smith says:

    I started carrying a camera a few years back. It works. However, I would love to go with Joel to St Pete College while all of the above happens while they squat on MY records unlawfully. Don’t be fooled by the ones who come on scene w/platitudes. They have been sent out especially to soothe you. I so can’t believe they haven’t started random pulling and ticketing you. That’s what you get in Hillsborough and Pinellas. Or LEO will suddenly be around your vehicle constantly (in the bizarre setting of the st pete college campus) because suddenly you are parked within seven feet of a car that has been broken into each time you park, on any campus. And half the time it was the SAME asian officer. The President of St Pete College, Bill Law is dirtier than ANY of his staff and that’s saying some.

  4. laura smith says:

    And the reason why more lawsuits aren’t filed is because it is OVERWHELMING. They imported all the dirty attorneys they needed to circumvent the law. Their main lawyerly tool seems to be “dead” silence. Any attorney caught covering for her corrupted client should be disbarred IMMEDIATELY and PERMANENTLY.

  5. James Wainio says:

    When can we watch the audit? That sounds like a great way to get a feel for what you do!

  6. Noreen says:

    Who are your attorneys? I have a bone to pick with Tarpon Springs.

  7. laura smith says:

    As I have related to your staff and as my phone calls will reflect, the collection action on this note started while I was STILL a fulltime student. As I have also stated, there was some problem with corruption in the Financial Aid Dept at St Pete College. They denied my student loans even though you folks faxed them that it was OK to make the loans which I fully qualified for. When I approached the President of the College he called me a liar and they have denied my requests for the emails and college records which prove this. As well, since they awarded one degree with the transcripts they have or had on file I suspect they have discarded a transcript and are demanding it to ‘release’ my credentials. All of this is the result of my assertion that their FA officer was attempting to force me to consolidate.
    There must be some sanctions in place for this because this financial aid officer targeted me and caused all of these activities.
    Proof exists.

    What can be done about this?

    I am in the process of applying for law school which has been delayed by this scurrilous activity by St Pete College. Promised financial aid turned into this nightmare of collection while I was still a student.
    Since, the financial aid officer has been employed by all the places where they led people out in handcuffs during the last scandal I believe he has used his connections to ruin my future.
    In the beginning it was his action that started this.

    What steps can be taken to discover what I am telling you because the school is and has been in violation of Federal Rules.
    Thank you for your time.
    (my letter to the increasing demand to pay my student loans when the delay caused by SPC has kept me from applying to law school)

  8. laura smith says:

    http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/two-gibbs-high-students-arrested-after-police-find-gun-drugs-and-cash-in/1272231

    Last week, it was Rene Flowers’ son. Flowers, newly selected to the Pinellas school board, her son is a hardened crack dealer. This week it’s Deveron Gibbons, on the board of SPC. Drugs cash guns in his highschool sons’ locker.

    Tonjua Williams, the SPC provost at Tarpon Springs, who was involved with College President Bill Law and many others in illegally handling all aspects of the administration of my education with this TRUSTED COLLEGE is bosom buddies with these drug crack folks.

    They have each participated in the illegal obscuring and withholding of the public records which prove my assertions.
    Deveron Gibbons was also accused, along with Darryl Rouson, of threatening the life of a fellow Democrat over MLK festivities.
    All of these people form a gang and committed a conspiracy to target myself and family.

    When I began to research these individuals I was not at all surprised to find that they are all very tight.

    With those records, someone will go to jail. Probably several someones because the records prove they KNEW the truth yet kept it from me and have now withheld my degree for almost two years through illegal and conspiratorial acts. I only became aware of some of this several months ago and in person at SPC when I asked questions and was given answers. Later found the person on facebook with the cop who used to follow me around in and out of my classes. And the SPC security. This is big. We have a chance to clean out SPC and make education normal there again. Bill Law needs to go. Even the best provost there is tainted by their acquaintanceship with the others who are guilty of selectively targeting students.

    Darryl Rouson sent his mother to stalk me in Philadelphia during the time directly after Obama’s inauguration which I attended. I have a picture of myself with her. THEN all of this happened. He targeted me. He used Deveron Gibbons and his other SPC connections to destroy my future currently.
    I know the emails prove it because a person highly placed in Pinellas County
    LE told me what the contents were and I have that email from this person proving this.
    I know the exchanges between these SPC employees prove they conspired.
    Or else, I’d have them in my hand. They only involved ME.

  9. laura smith says:

    -1

    toobadforme4 hours ago

    Gibbons, Flowers, Watson Haynes – what do these St Pete politicians all have in common? Besides all working at St Pete College – kids in jail!!!!! This is what’s leading our City — shame on you!

    Reply

    +1

    shame9 hours ago

    Bet there are a lot more drugs and guns in other lockers . If we only knew.

    Reply

    1 reply

    +5

    Tessy4 hours ago

    Heard through a teacher friend, the police went through every locker.

    Reply

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