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Innovation

FL counties block access to emails

Newspaper asks for emails. Responses range from expensive to inaccessible - with a few exceptions.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on

It's virtually impossible for Flordia residents to see the emails government officials are sending, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

In Osceola, residents have to write a check simply to view emails. In Volusia, you have to go into the office and read emails over an employee's shoulder.

"E-mail is really the critical checkpoint for the public to stay in touch with what kind of business is being done with your tax dollars," said Joe Adams, author of The Florida Public Records Handbook.

As part of Sunshine Week, the paper requested a week's worth of email from each Central Florida county's commission chair and manager.

Brevard County was the most responsive. An administrator in the county manager's office forwarded 27 e-mails, plus attachments, to a Sentinel inbox within 40 minutes.

The worst was Volusia County. The request was met with several options, each one expensive or frustrating: pay 5 cents per page plus labor costs up front to compile 290 e-mails and wait while they're printed; or pay $10.56 for a CD that provides copies of the e-mails but does not list them in any order and does not work on every computer.

Alternatively, residents may view e-mails for free, but must pass several intimidating barriers: Make an appointment with a member of the technology department, be escorted through a dizzying maze of cubicles to his work station and scroll through e-mails one at a time while he sits watching. The system searches only one month at a time and can take up to four minutes to find just one e-mail.

So what are they hiding? Quite a bit, it turns out.

Without the ability to review officials' e-mail, the public never would have known that private companies routinely wine and dine Volusia elected officials during private meetings; that Polk residents were readying a recall campaign against four county commissioners in 2005; that Polk Commissioner Randy Wilkinson sent religious e-mails to government employees; and that former DeLand City Commissioner Maureen France despised her job -- and her colleagues.
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