Legislative session should expand, not contract, sunshine

The Florida Legislature will meet in one month to kick off the 2014 session, and some hopeful signs have appeared regarding the public’s right to know, as well as bills encouraging the ethical conduct of our public officials.

But a troubling effort is also underway in the Legislature to restrict the public’s right to know the names of candidates for top job positions in public universities and colleges.

House Bill 135 and a companion Senate Bill 728 would exempt information from public records regarding applicants for presidents, provosts, or deans of state universities or Florida public colleges. The bills would also provide exemptions from public-meeting requirements for any meetings held for the purposes of identifying or vetting applicants for presidents, provosts, or deans. The bill would then require the release of names of specified applicants within a certain time frame.

Legislators should stop these bills attempting to restrict the public’s right to know.

Florida has established some of the most open access laws in the 50 states.

But that access sometimes makes people nervous.

By excluding names of candidates in the beginning and middle parts of the executive search at our universities and colleges, the Legislature would begin taking the people and their rights down a slippery slope. Today, it’s candidates for top positions at colleges. If that happens, what’s to stop future legislators from attempting to restrict information about candidates for city or county manager positions, or superintendent positions, or really any taxpayer-paid positions?

The Legislature should avoid this slippery slope. Let’s keep the hiring process for all public positions — including colleges and universities — as open as possible.

The Legislature should focus on protecting public access this session, while improving opportunities for public officials to educate themselves on ethics. It’s what will keep Florida government out of the shadows.

-The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 9:34 am