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New public records policy hits home for councilman

By Staff | Nov 5, 2011

Under City Manager Gary King’s new public records policy, Councilmember Marty McClain was told it would cost more than $700 for access to King’s cell phone records.

The manager said the fee falls in line with the policy, which dropped the threshold definition for “excessive” records retrieval and preparation time from an hour to 15 minutes.

King unilaterally put the policy into effect about a month ago.

McClain requested all of King’s cell phone records from the date of his hire to the present after a local news broadcast called into question cell phone communications between the mayor and certain council members.

McClain said he wanted to know if King was involved in that string of communications.

“I’m concerned he might be communicating with certain members of council and not council as a whole,” McClain said.

The cell phone is personal property, King says, and the associated costs to examine and redact any personal information within the records was calculated by the finance department.

King said the associated costs break down to roughly $90 an hour, based on his salary. King added that if an employee who makes a lesser wage were used to redact the information, they wouldn’t know what to look for in his personal records.

“These are my personal, private calls and I’m the only one who knows who they are,” King said. “If it were a city phone he would be welcome to all of them.”

McClain said the city not only refunded King for the phone to the tune of $99, but the city also pays for his monthly stipend.

Paying those bills makes it city property, McClain said, adding that he feels King is circumventing the city’s charter by denying a council member access to public records.

“He does work for this council,” McClain said. “Limiting or restricting information is way beyond his authorization limit.”

King disagreed.

“He’s not my boss, council is,” King said. “Any individual council member does not have the authority to direct me to provide the records.”

King added, “If it were a productive exercise I might see it differently. I can’t imagine what the benefit of this request is.”

Barbara Peterson from the Florida First Amendment Foundation, said King is allowed to charge for extensive records requests, but the city has failed to justify or even clearly define what an extensive records request might be.

The lowest paid person should always be the one to redact or compile information, Peterson said.

Peterson added that a personal cell phone used for public business should not be exempt and no information should be redacted.

“It seems to me to be retaliatory on its face,” Peterson said. “It sounds like he doesn’t to give him the information and it’s odd he would charge his boss for access to his records. In his role as a council member he has a fiduciary duty to the city and it’s his job to make sure the city manager is not doing anything he’s not supposed to.”

McClain said the city manager should have nothing to hide if all business is being conducted above board.

“If you are telling the truth from the dais in his position, you should have no fear of anything anyone’s requests,” McClain said. “Perception is everything.”