Three days after promising to improve my attitude about Citrus County government, the folks there have given me reason to snarl.
Because when it comes to local government, there is just one thing I won’t mess with: public records.
I have a long and mostly successful history with Citrus County public records requests. I make sure they’re succinct, easy to follow, easy to fulfill. The law allows the government to charge me if filling the request takes more than 15 minutes, so I’m careful to avoid that. And I understand that some requests take time.
Most, though, are easy peasy. Or they should be.
On Nov. 1, the county sent residents of Inverness Villages 4 notice of a meeting Thursday, Nov. 9, at the courthouse to discuss the findings of a report estimating how much it’ll cost homeowners to pave streets in the embattled community.
“Thank you for your patience in awaiting the results of the MSBU Engineering study. Citrus County has received and reviewed the findings,” it reads.
A resident forwarded the email to me that same day and I promptly asked the county for the report through the public records portal: “I understand the MSBU Engineering study for Inverness Villages 4 is completed. Please provide me a copy of it.”
Normally, getting a report shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes, sometimes a few hours. If there’s a delay longer than that, someone usually lets me know.
Except this time.
Not a word. Not a document. No record. No report.
I’m one of those nervous nellies who starts pushing buttons as the deadline approaches. I sent the county an email on Monday, asking what’s up with my request. Their answer: It’s processing.
On Wednesday, I left a phone message with County Administrator Steve Howard and sent an email to County Attorney Denise Dymond Lyn, looking for help. That got me nowhere.
I spoke with Commissioner Holly Davis, who is leading the Inverness Villages 4 effort. She hadn’t read the report but knows the nuts and bolts, which she will reveal to residents at a meeting Thursday.
And, of course, she wouldn’t share what she knew with me.
I have some concerns:
— I was born at night, but not last night. The county is clearly holding back a public record so it can control the message. This is WRONG.
It would be one thing if I was just asking someone for the info and they declined to provide it. Like with Commissioner Davis. If she doesn’t want to reveal her knowledge of a report prior to doing so publicly, that’s up to her.
But the county shouldn’t delay filling a public records request for the report simply because it wants to provide information in its own way, and not the Just Wright Citrus way.
Truth is, there’s not much I can do about this but whine. While the law details which records are public and which ones are not, it’s rather vague on timeliness.
The county policy states: “All public records requests are promptly acknowledged and responded to in good faith.”
I made a formal request for this document on Nov. 1. It was “promptly acknowledged” with an automated email. So that part is golden.
However, seven days — actually, more since as of this writing I still haven’t received the report — without releasing the report or even so much as an update on where things stand…is that a “good faith” response?
— The idea that this is somehow a private matter for Inverness Villages 4 is absurd. That’s the message I get from officials who don’t want this report revealed to the residents before the county can do it.
If the MSBU number comes in high and IV 4 residents oppose new roads, will the commission force it on them? Nothing like Inverness Villages 4 has ever happened here. All of this is precedent setting.
This isn’t a singular neighborhood problem. What happens in Inverness Villages 4 affects us all. That’s why I write about it.
— Government is the keeper of public records, not the owner. That’s a key distinction. We — you and me — own the records. They’re ours. We shouldn’t have to beg for them.
The law allows for a timely process that serves all involved. The problem occurs when citizens make unrealistic records demands, or the government’s response is less than “good faith.”
I finished this blog at 3 p.m. Wednesday but waited until after close of business to send it to my editor.
6:30 p.m. No report, no response. Shaking my head.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.