Tuesday will not be a good day for St Johns County Sheriff David B Shoar when he is scheduled to appear before the Board of County Commissioners to justify spending more than $5 million next year over the $67.18 million he spent last year — the records of which are not available for inspection.
The Florida Constitution and state statutes make financial records of public funds open to inspection and copying by members of the public. You do not need to identify yourself or even have a reason for the inspection. Unless your request requires photocopies or extensive labor and information technology due to the large volume of the request, there is no special service charge for access to that information.
That is, of course, unless you are David Shoar; who may send a surrogate on his behalf to present the $72.22 million spending request if he detects that the county commission meeting will force him to engage a hostile crowd.
On May 24, 2017 Historic City News requested a list of the Sheriff’s Office checks and deposits during the past 90-days. Nearly a month later, after notification to the sheriff, the president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation (an attorney) and the Special Counsel for Open Government in the Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi, Sheriff Shoar has not released the information.
Why? On Wednesday, June 7, 2017 Sergeant Bonnie Jimmerson, Records Supervisor for the St Johns County Sheriff’s Office, advised “The information that you have requested is combined with complex and statutorily protected information.”
We had requested, and re-requested, the date the check was written, the amount of the check, the name of the vendor or payee of the check, and the description of the payment. That information is neither “complex” nor “statutorily protected information”.
“If we were to allow anyone to inspect or make un-redacted copies of our internal finance records, we would be in violation of Florida Statute,” Jimmerson wrote, citing an example of unrequested identifying information of citizens that have alarm systems in their residence.
In a response to Historic City News from Barbara A. Petersen, President of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, she wrote “I know the SO is splitting hairs,” referring to our use of the term “checks” instead of a more generic term, “payments”. The statute provides no sanctuary for elected public officials, like Shoar, or their custodians of public records, like Jimmerson, for disputes over semantics. The laws in Florida provides penalties for noncompliance with our request that include criminal penalties, civil action, and attorney’s fees.