Petersen joins panel to consolidate open government documents

400-barbara_petersenBarbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, told Historic City News that her goal would be to have one website where you could get instant access to thousands of public documents, compiled by dozens of state agencies; as she was being appointed yesterday to the state’s User Experience Task Force.

Senate President Don Gaetz used his appointment to the four-member board to add Petersen’s knowledge and experience; both as an open-government advocate, and as an attorney who has testified before legislative committees regarding open meetings, public records and transparency of official records for several years.

“Barbara Petersen is Florida’s respected guardian of open records, open meetings and open government,” Gaetz said in announcing the appointment. “Her leadership of the First Amendment Foundation gives credibility and reliability to this important work.”

The task force was created this year with appointees by the governor, legislative presiding officers and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. The unpaid appointees will recommend design of a consolidated website, bringing together multiple sites now maintained by different agencies, providing public access to operational and financial data.

The task force will make recommendations to the House and Senate for the 2014 session.

“We have a lot of very good websites in many agencies, but they’re all over the place,” Petersen said. “It can be difficult for a citizen to navigate through all those different websites.”

She said Gov. Rick Scott and Atwater have established good sites for their offices, but standards are not uniform through state government.

“Transparency is critical to good, open government but there’s a difference between transparency and access,” Petersen said. “We can improve access by putting more records online and using today’s technology as effectively as possible to make it easier for citizens to navigate through those agency websites. To have one website with portals for various agencies would be a vast improvement. Right now, that’s not happening.”

Petersen is a graduate of the University of Missouri and the Florida State University law school. She has been president of the FAF, an open-government watchdog organization, since 1995.

Before that, she was a staff lawyer for the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Information Technology Resources, working on public records legislation.

She has also written several reports and articles on open government and serves on the board of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. She previously served on the state Commission on Open Government Reform.

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