Earlier this week I traveled to South Florida with two companions in order to audit public agencies as well as state and local contractors for their compliance with the Florida Public Records Act. Although we had a delightful time enjoying the company of old and new friends and sampling the local culinary scene, the public records portion of the trip was a train wreck.
My companions, Terrell Elliston and Tilex “Lex” Altidor (I call them T & T) are African-American and members of the PMJA (Poor and Minority Justice Association) a civil rights organization based in Central Florida.
In addition to being excellent traveling companions, T & T also provided the opportunity to conduct a social experiment to see if minorities are treated differently when making public records requests. They are, but I’ll discuss that later.
In the coming days I will discuss various facets of the trip in more detail. For now I’ve posted a video that I shot while making a simple public records request at the City of Miami Municipal Marina.
The Marina was located across the street from our hotel and we noticed that it was publicly owned and operated on Monday night as we walked back to our hotel from dinner in Coconut Grove. They claim that it is the largest municipal marina in Florida.
On our last day in South Florida I walked across the street alone to the marina.
This encounter became another example of the absurd lengths to which some public officials will go to frustrate the public’s right to know. In addition to profound ignorance of their obligations under the Public Records Act, the folks I encountered we very quick to just start making stuff up. They claimed that I was obliged to obey nonexistent rules and laws while ignoring the actual laws they are obliged to obey. Most exasperating was their complete unwillingness to seek counsel from the City Clerk or the City Attorney in spite of my repeated invitations to do so. When I explained that litigation would be the likely outcome they either did not seem to care or outright encouraged me to file suit against the City of Miami.
To the attorneys that claim I’m engaging in “gotcha” litigation here are a few thoughts to consider:
This conduct is typical. I document it. Your clients lie about it. And you wonder why I’m so willing to be Captain Dick during settlement discussions. Your facts suck; your clients are lying to you, and; when we get to court you’re going to be embarrassed in front of a judge. This is not staged or orchestrated. Your clients really are that stupid.
These kinds of encounters are far too common and serve to illustrate that I don’t engage in “gotcha” tactics. As I did in this film, I often invite folks to seek help or counsel from other public officials or legal counsel in an effort to avoid the cost and aggravation of litigation. Sometimes it would be best if folks just put down the shovel and stopped digging the hole they are already in. Most times they don’t.
The degree of lawlessness with respect to public records access in Miami-Dade County was stunning. I’ve been there to conduct audits many times before, but it seems like things are getting worse. I guess it’s time for Education through Litigation…again.