Public record: 1) a record required by law to be made and kept; 2) a record made by a public officer in the course of his legal duty to make it; 3) a record filed in a public office and open to public inspection.
    These definitions are from Merriam-Webster. My definition is that a public record is what you as a taxpayer have a right to know about how your government operates.
    This summer our cities and towns will be preparing budgets for the next fiscal year. They will be considering new or upgraded records management systems. They will be considering how to best manage their telecommunications and data systems.
    They will be looking at how best to distribute information to their residents. Some will be improving their streaming audio and video to provide greater resident access to how decisions are made by their elected officials.
    This is the year we as taxpayers should demand our municipalities make easy access to public records a top priority.
    Why now? Because property tax values have increased for the fifth straight year and municipal coffers are returning to record 2007 levels. In other words, the cash is available.
    And, of course, there is what we should learn from the continuing public records litigation in Gulf Stream.
    No matter how small and discreet a town wants to remain, it doesn’t pay to not have systems in place to handle any and all requests for information from its residents — even residents who might use Florida’s open records laws for vindictive purposes or use despicable dramatics and the filing of questionable lawsuits to further their self-interests.
    Every small town in our area should be asking itself: What would it do if it suddenly were besieged with public record requests for everything from text messages to telephone communications to emails and meeting transcripts? Would its officials balk, circle the wagons and decide to fight the requests in court, or hire additional help and meet the demands as the spirit of the public records law demands?
    It’s easy to tell which way most benefits the taxpayer.
    What other small municipalities should study from Gulf Stream’s situation is the impressive way the town has reacted to its unique situation by investing in improved public records management and new platforms for resident involvement in government operations.
    This year, let your elected officials know that access to public records is your right as a taxpayer. Even if you never plan to file a Freedom of Information Act request, tell them you want your tax dollars invested in an infrastructure that will assure transparency in local government.

— Mary Kate Leming,
Editor

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