It’s an old story.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given dominion over Creation. Even in that state of perfection our first parents abused their authority by eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

And Someone held them to account for their mischief.

Men and women who occupy positions of authority are pathologically predisposed to abuse that authority. In every culture and in every age it has been true.

The necessity for accountability is not, however, an excuse for legalism or self-righteousness on the part of the watchers. Rather, it is recognition of the evidence of mankind’s duality and total depravity.а

Our social contract.

As Americans, the United State Constitution is our collective recognition of mankind’s predisposition to behave badly and serves as our social contract. аIn that agreement, the governed grant to the governors limited authority to act on our behalf and for the common good.

With remarkable insight, and obvious cynicism about the nature of mankind, the Founding Fathers drafted a Constitution that is based upon accountability. аEach of the three branches of government is held in check by the other two. аAnd the three branches collectively are accountable to the governed.а

By what authority?

The people grant to the government all of its power. аConversely, neither the government, nor the Constitution grants to us our rights. Our rights are inalienable because the Creator imputes them to us. Our rights exist simply because we exist. The Constitution is merely a written acknowledgement of those preexisting inalienable natural rights.

Therefore, when I’m met with an assertion of power naturally I’m inclined to ask, “by what authority?” In other words, at what point have the governed conferred upon the person or entity asserting authority the power to do so? What are the limits of that authority? Is the person or entity exceeding or abusing that authority?

The methods I employ involve “nonviolent direct action.” аThat is, I deliberately seek opportunities to engage persons in authority. I do not create the conflict; I simply expose what is already there.

As Martin Luther King wrote:а

“We who in engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”

My methods include making public records requests, attending public meetings, photography and videography from public spaces. аI do not violate the law; I am nonviolent, and; I make every effort to treat those I encounter with courtesy and respect. аIf there is a story to be told as a result of the encounter, it is only because those in authority chose to overreact and abuse the limited authority that has been granted to them.

No limits.

Since 2008 I’ve been a full-time civil rights activist. Although I’m frequently involved with various civil rights issues my primary focus is open government.

It’s not that access to public records and meetings is more important than, say, racial equality. It’s not. It’s because open government can be an enormously powerful tool in the hands of folks who are fighting for racial equality…or any other civil rights issue.

My goal is to work with all manner of individuals and groups to empower then to assert their right to know.а

To that end I meet with folks from all over Florida to develop their public records skills and to help develop strategies that will allow them to maximize the power of access to the records and meetings they are entitled to. I also collaborate with public agencies and private contractors acting on their behalf to improve public access to records.

Over the years I’ve worked with individuals and groups of every political strip; the rich and the poor; conservatives and liberals; the religious and the secular. I’ve accepted invitations to speak to black churches, lily-white atheist groups and middle-eastern Muslim groups. I’ve strategized with student organizations, civil rights activists and political operatives. I’ve had the opportunity to work with political groups just right of Joe McCarthy and well left of Mao Tse-tung. I’m an equal opportunity offender and I don’t care about an individual’s or a group’s agenda. I just want to encourage them to exercise their constitutionally protected civil rights.

Practical realities.

Although I’d much rather work with errant public agencies to correct violations of Florida’s Public Records Act and Sunshine Law, sometimes litigation is the only option available.

In 2009 the Florida Governor’s Commission On Open Government Reform delivered a 194 report. In it the blue-ribbon commission opined “...the burden of enforcing violations of Florida's open meetings and public records laws generally falls to citizens who have few alternatives other than seeking an injunction or filing suit in civil court to compel compliance.”

Sadly, they were right.

So, with the help of a number of talented and dedicated attorneys, I’ve won hundreds of civil rights lawsuits. Beginning with my first civil rights lawsuit against the Polk County School Board in 2008 for violations of Florida's Public Records Act, I’ve maintained a win/loss record of over 99%.

Today, most of my litigation is done Pro Se (without an attorney) in order to try and keep the costs to taxpayers as low as possible.

In addition to working with citizens and civil rights groups I regularly audit publicly operated agencies and government contractors for compliance with Article 1, Section 24 of the Florida Constitution and Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes (Florida's Public Records Act).

I want to help.

If you or your organization would like help or if your organization would like me to speak about open government issues just let me know. There is no cost to you.

As a non-attorney I am not qualified or authorized to give legal advice to the public. аI do, however, consult with attorneys on public records issues, including vendor compliance with the Public Records Act. аIf you are an attorney and you would like to arrange a fee-based consultation please contact me directly at (863) 660-4244.

ай Joel E. Chandler 2015