Fans of Florida’s public records law have a trifecta of stories to chew on this week.
The first involves the tragic death of University of Central Florida (UCF) football player Ereck Plancher, who collapsed and died on the practice field in 2008.
A jury awarded Plancher’s family $10 million, but the verdict was overturned by the 5th District Court of Appeal because Florida’s “sovereign immunity” laws place a $200,000 cap on damages against the state.
The family contended that the defendant UCF Athletics Association, Inc., a “direct support organization” (DSO) that runs the UCF football program, was a private corporation that could not claim the benefit of the $200,000 cap.
The Association is “wholly controlled by and intertwined with UCF, in that UCF created it, funded it and can dissolve it, in addition to oversee its day-to-day operations as much or as little as it sees fit,” the Court said.
DSOs have proliferated like kudzu at state universities. They collect and spend billions of dollars which are effectively controlled by the university presidents. The Pancher case reminds us that DSO records are a treasure trove of information that the public has a right to request and a need to read.
Over on the Right Coast, the public relations geniuses at Broward Healthcare tried to spike a story about the salaries and benefits of top administrators by demanding $421 to produce public payroll records to reporters for the non-profit website Broward Bulldog.
Bulldog barked back with a crowd funding campaign. The embarrassed hospital district promptly rolled over and coughed up the records.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) has a higher threshold of shame, so the ACLU of Florida has gone to court to test the bona fides of its claim that it can’t possibly figure out the cell and bunk assignments at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution
The News Service Florida extracted this instant classic explanation from DOC flack Misty Cash: “We have a fabulous IT team and they do everything and anything possible to supply records and things that they can,” Cash said. “However, we have a very antiquated system and often times it’s not easy to use that system and find what is there.”
“The DOC has a constitutional and statutory duty to provide access to its public records,” First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen told The News Service. “The fact that they have stored these records in a manner that makes them irretrievable is their problem.”
Indeed it is.
And it’s everybody’s problem that DOC — even with the help of a taxpayer-funded “ Bed Space Management System” — won’t admit to knowing where the prisoners are bedding down.