Texting in the dark to avoid the Florida sunshine

Tim Nickens dropped a bombshell on University of South Florida public affairs reporting students– Florida lawmakers are texting important info via cell phones, thus avoiding the Florida Sunshine laws.

“Texts and emails have sent a lot of government underground,” said Nickens.

While technology has certainly made it easier to communicate between local and state governments, it cuts back on the amount of open meetings the governments are required to have.

It also allows for a shadier type of politics to take hold, especially in a state that has broken much ground and given an abundant amount of transparency to its governmental structure.

The Florida Public Records law came to life in 1909, giving the public access to photos, documents and film.  Then In 1967, Florida enacted the Government-in-the-Sunshine law, which gives the public access to meetings and commissions.

Phone conversations, however, are not includes in the sunshine laws.  This is unfortunate because phone conversations are sure to be chock-full of important light-shedding information.

But, the controversy hasn’t gone on deaf ears.  In December 2009, Central Florida News 13 reported that a ban on texts has gone into effect for all Osceola county workers.

The Orlando Sentinel also reported similar news at the beginning of this month, but hinted that county workers won’t give up their texting without a fight.

Nickens also explained to the class that legislature is not subject to open meetings, and that they tend to make their own rules.

Nickens related to the class a powerful example of public records reporting with his story regarding St. Pete High.  The high school’s records showed one teacher with a 96 percent pass rate, versus another teacher, teaching the same class, with 8 percent pass rate.  The information is alarming, and is thanks to open public records.

Hopefully Florida will continue its tradition of transparency, and move to set stricter text, email and phone laws into place pertaining to lawmakers and county officials.

16 thoughts on “Texting in the dark to avoid the Florida sunshine”

  1. This blog does a great job on taking one of Nickens’ issues with technology and running with it. I like the quotes and the use of outside news sources on this blog. I think the blog is conversational as well as informative.

  2. I think the issue of texting was one of the most interesting points that Nickens talked about. I couldn’t believe that elected officials were texting in order to keep their discussions a secret. It is very deceitful but you got to give them credit for creativity. Great blog.

  3. Looking at the history of the Sunshine law and the accomplishments made in favor of more open public records; I don’t think the underground world of politicians will make it in the long run. Aggressive media is the key to problems like texting among politicians. I like how the blogger gives some history of the Sunshine Law and how media responds to the issues around it.

  4. While Florida is an open state compared to the rest of the U.S. is it really “fair” to make all legislatures text messaging and email’s public record while others (normal people) get to keep theirs private? I do agree that “business” should not be conducted via text message or email, not only is it deceitful, but its impersonal. I would prefer to see meetings be held where the public can attend rather than exploit a persons text messages and emails. I feel its a thin line to be crossing right now.

  5. I like your use of writing in this piece. You do a nice job at presenting the issues, quoting the speaker and keeping it unbiased. The information as I remember it is accurate and I like your use of links to other useful websites or sources.

  6. Who would have thought government officials would be texting information so that it could be withheld from the public. This blog, along with the others read, did a good job on talking about the most shocking thing heard at the Nicken’s presentation. I enjoyed the outside sources used to help enhance the readers understanding. The examples used were a good touch!

  7. Great job covering Nickens lecture. It’s almost shocking what politicians will do to hide what should be public issues. Good job with your research and blog post.

  8. Great post! I agree that with technology and the means to communicate evolving so rapidly, it’s becoming more difficult to keep track of who is doing what. Shady politics will always be a problem in our society but as long as there continues to be open public records and as long we continue to keep a steady eye on what is being done, we can minimize the damage that is done by elected officials and everyone who works for the public.

  9. I liked how you focused on the fact that people are now using text messages and e-mails as a way to keep their information, which may or may not be questionable, private and protected. I also liked how you talked about the case in December last year regarding a ban on texts for Osceola County workers. Overall, a well done post.

  10. This was a well written post. I’m impressed at the research done in order to get this blog up. Like the previous blog post I saw, I enjoyed the posting of the link. This will give me some ideas and improve my future blog posts. I liked when Nickens talked about the teacher’s passing rates for AP classes. That’s definetly something parents need to know before enrolling their children. I agree with the last part on Florida keeping it’s tradition of open public records.

  11. I’m diggin the presentation of the blog. It has a nice flow to it that makes it easy to read. Kudos for all the extra research that went into putting this post together. Hard work goes a long way.

  12. I enjoyed reading your blog … you went far and beyond just reporting notes, you looked up central florida news 13 and orlando sentinel stories that related to the information. Also, I like the hard quote and the historic information you added.

  13. I agree with the last statement completely. It sounds like Florida is one of the MORE transparent states, but still has some issues that need to be sorted out.

  14. It is incredibly important for transparency to occur in all government and public institution procedures. Without transparency, there can be no trust. Without trust, there is no real confidence in society with what its governement is doing. Except in cases of extreme national security interest, or to protect the personal privacy of someone not involved in a government or public court procedure, transparency should be an utmost consideration of governments everywhere.

  15. Texting to get around the Sunshine laws. Now that’s sneaky. I applaud Osceola county for banning it among their workers. Texting goes agains the spirit and intent of the Sunshine laws and should not be used to conduct government business.

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