Although Florida has already implemented some of the most powerful “sunshine” laws in the nation – namely, a constitutional amendment provision that guarantees citizens’ right to access to most types of information – there are still problems with gaining information about Florida’s state government.
Surveys by news organizations and First Amendment advocacy groups have routinely found that more than one-third of rightful requests for information are not satisfied in a prompt manner. One such survey, conducted by a group of Florida newspapers, “found that 42 percent of the 220 local agencies surveyed statewide failed to meet the standards of (open government compliance),” according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
But get this: A new governor, in one of his first acts, tries to make sure that the press and private citizens have access to information about his government. It’s almost too good to be true.
With the signing of his first executive order last week, newly elected Florida Gov. Charlie Crist “create(d) an open government office and pledge(d) that requests for public records from state agencies will be met as quickly as possible,” according to the Pensacola News Journal.
In addition, Crist is spearheading a “Plain Language Initiative.” Government language can be opaque, and Crist apparently wants Floridians to know what’s going on with their tax money and state government. He wants it now, too – within 90 days, he wants all state agencies under his jurisdiction to submit “plain language guidelines” in order to “eliminate the gobbledygook from essential documents.”
There will even be a director of open government. Joann Carrin, who was chief of communications for Crist while he was attorney general, will assume the position.
Like all things in politics, Crist’s attempts at open government may turn out to be nonsense. It’s possible the open government office will become a glorified public relations desk and that the “plain language initiative” will deepen, not alleviate, the opaque nature of much government lingo.
However, if Crist means what he says, his efforts to provide the state with information about its government will be more than praiseworthy. If his ideas come to fruition, it will be a strong advocacy for him when it comes to re-election in four years. Crist might even redeem himself of his patronizing inaugural address if he’s serious.
He certainly seems to be.