Public Records Law - Office of the General Counsel

• Florida Statutes, Chapter 286, the “Open
Meetings Law,” often referred to as the
“Sunshine Law” protects the public from
“closed door” decision making and provides
a right of access to governmental meetings
• Florida Statutes, Chapter 119, the “Public
Records Law,” creates a right of access to
records made or received in connection with
official business of a public body
• Florida Statutes Chapter 286 applies to all
meetings of “any board or commission of any
state agency or authority”
• If the Sunshine Law is applicable, it requires:
All meetings must be open meetings
Reasonable notice of meetings must be given
Minutes of meetings must be kept
• Meetings
Must be open to the public; public has a right to
attend and to comment as provided in USF BOT
Include any discussions or deliberations, formal or
casual, between two or more Board members about a
matter on which the Board might foreseeably take
Include workshops, telephone conversations,
e-mail communications, seeing each other at the
grocery store or a party
• Reasonable Notice of Meetings
Reasonable notice is ample notice given to the public
and press which reasonably and timely conveys all
information necessary to enable them to choose to
“Reasonable” depends upon situation’s circumstances
• Meeting may not be held at facility/location
inaccessible to public or which discriminates due
to presence of physical barriers
• Minutes must be recorded and open to public
• Minutes are not verbatim transcript—but brief
summary of meeting’s events
• Sound recordings may be used in addition to
written minutes, but if used, must be retained.
Not normally recommended by OGC
• Votes must be publicly taken
• No secret ballots
• Roll call vote not required
• All members must vote (unless they have a
conflict of interest) and the Minutes must so
reflect by recording of the vote or counting a
vote for each member
• Committee meetings, e.g., faculty/staff or tenure and promotion
meetings at the University are generally not open because those
committees/groups are fact-finders
• If the Board or President delegates decision or policy making
authority to a committee, such meetings are open, e.g., search and
selection committees
• Per AG Opinion, meetings of boards of direct support organizations
(DSOs) are “in the sunshine”
• New law (effective October 1, 2014) allows DSO Board discussion of
plans or programs for either initiating or supporting research “out
of the sunshine”
• Sunshine Law broadly construed–exemptions
narrowly construed
• No use of evasive devices
Circulation of written reports
Single staff member reporting to one member what
the other members think about an issue which may
foreseeably come before the entire body for vote
• Second degree misdemeanor to knowingly
violate Sunshine Law
• Possible removal from position
• Fine of $500 or less
• Reasonable attorneys’ fees
• Declaratory and injunctive relief
• Action taken at illegal meeting invalid
• Florida Statutes Chapter 119 defines
“public records” as:
All documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes,
photographs, films, sound recordings, data
processing software, or other material
Regardless of physical form or means of
Made or received pursuant to law in connection with
transaction of official business by the agency
Not applicable to truly
personal or transitory records
• Public Records Law applies to USF records
• Applies to all types of written records including
letters, notes and e-mails
• Law to be broadly construed, exemptions
narrowly construed
USF records exempt from public disclosure include:
• Social Security Numbers
• Medical information
• Personnel information prior to 7/1/95
• Academic evaluation of job performance
• Disciplinary records while discipline is in process
• Student records under FERPA
• Personal identifying information about employees of (animal)
research facilities, including state universities
Expanded exemption for data containing trade secrets as
maintained on university computer network
• DSO records generally exempt from disclosure,
except for:
Auditor’s report
Management letter
Supplemental Data requested by the Board of Governors,
University Board of Trustees, Florida Auditor General and
the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and
Government Accountability
Donor Identity (where donor desires to remain anonymous)
is protected from disclosure and can’t be disclosed in
auditor’s report
• Requests can be:
Verbal or written
Made by any person
Requestor need not disclose reason for request
• USF has “reasonable” time to respond
• USF can bill the requestor for retrieving
records if amount requested is voluminous
• Does not require the creation or provision of
records in the format requested versus the
way we maintain
• Does not require verbal explanation by USF
• Does not require giving records to requestor
at no cost
• Please call the Office of the General Counsel
if you have questions about
Florida Public Records’ law or
Florida Public Meetings’ law
• We’re here to help – really!

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