Sarasota News Leader

09/06/2013

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OPINION A DARK CLOUD OVER GOVERNMENT IN THE SUNSHINE EDITORIAL On Aug. 28, Commissioner Joe Barbetta led his fellow commissioners in a 45-minute condemnation of Lourdes Ramirez, president of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations and an expected candidate to replace Commissioner Nora Patterson on the County Commission. While the state constitution was amended in 1992 to allow for broad access to public records, the Legislature provided that government entities could charge the public for the cost of making copies and the staff time required to provide the requested documents, especially if the volume of the request incurred extensive involvement of personnel. What did Ramirez do to earn such invective? She was exercising her rights as a citizen, under the Florida constitution, to inspect and copy public documents. The county has routinely been charging for the costs of providing copies of public records, but apparently it has had no explicit policy for charging for staff time. It is for that reason that Ramirez was not asked to pay. She brought her own portable scanner to free staff from the need to make copies of documents she reviewed, so only the monitor's time was expended. Barbetta's pique ostensibly was due to the assignment of a county staff person to monitor Ramirez' inspection of those documents — 17 boxes of them — without the county charging Ramirez for the cost of that staff person's time. The staff person was with Ramirez for No one with the county gave Ramirez any inalmost nine hours. dication that she would be expected to pay

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