O-Ed: Sun shines on government 24/7 thanks to online sites

Florida’s long tradition of public access to state and local governments now goes well beyond City Hall and commission meetings. Government websites feed our desire 24/7 to be involved in how our tax dollars are spent.

On this Sunshine Sunday, we champion our local governments for expanding their websites for the public’s benefit including more information on meetings, agendas, minutes, financial plans and general government operations. We appreciate too the efforts put forth through workshops to ensure our elected officials and government staff understand their responsibility to operate in the sunshine. Workshops on Florida’s Sunshine and public records laws are conducted annually statewide by The First Amendment Foundation of Florida for public officials and the public at large. Last December, The Record was among the presenters in a workshop on Florida’s open government laws sponsored by State Attorney R.J. Larizza. The Record hosted a First Amendment Foundation seminar in October. We encourage everyone to sign up the next time these sessions are announced.

Sunshine Sunday began in 2002 with a desire to highlight the importance of the public’s access to government. The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, now the Florida Society of News Editors, initiated Sunshine Sunday in conjunction with other news media partners. In 2005, the effort went national as the American Society of Newspaper Editors created Sunshine Week. We encourage you to explore their web sites today for more about Sunshine issues — fsne.org and asne.org.

In recent months, the cities of St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach and St. Johns County government have expanded information online. A section on open government has been added to the county’s website. The St. Johns County School Board has many key points of access, especially its financial transparency section. Clerk of the Courts, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, Sheriff, Supervisor of Elections, have voluminous material on line, enough to keep someone occupied for months without ever stepping foot inside any of their offices. Anastasia Mosquito Control District, St. Augustine Airport Authority and city of Hastings provide varying levels of public access as well.

Not everything is perfect when it comes to government openness. Accessing documents that are not posted online, for example, is sometimes tedious and even onerous because, by law, a fee may be charged for the documents. With the increase in the number of web sites devoted to ensuring access, we encourage our local governments to post online as much as they can. A better informed citizenry makes for better government.

Sunshine online

St. Johns County — sjcfl.us. This site includes to the county’s constitutional officers, county commissioners and county staff. It includes general access to county commission and other meetings and their agendas, general information on county services and the new section on open government.

St. Augustine Beach — staugbch.com. Local government site includes information from the city manager, building and zoning, police department, public works, city commission, and the mayor’s office.

City of St. Augustine — staugustinegovernment.com. Site includes all access to city government and city officials, meeting agendas and minutes, and general government information.

St. Johns County School District — stjohns.k12.fl.us. Site includes contact information for all district officials and School Board, school programs, bus schedules, financial transparency, schools, and other teacher, student and parent-related information.

State of Florida — myflorida.com. Comprehensive web site of state government including the Legislature and the governor’s office.

First Amendment Foundation of Florida — floridafaf.org, The First Amendment Foundation of Florida, Tallahassee, ensures that “public commitment and progress in the areas of free speech, free press, and open government do not become checked and diluted during Florida’s changing times.”

Brechner Center for Freedom of Information — brechner.org. The Brechner Center is located in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications in Gainesville. It offers information on access to governments in Florida, the nation and the world.