When Development Director Katie Bohnett reached out to Historic City News yesterday to officially announce the retirement plans of Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, our editor, Michael Gold, said that his own retirement, planned for next year, helped him deal with the clear sense of loss of one of our best soldiers on the front line of protecting the public’s right to oversee its government and hold it accountable to the electorate.
Petersen, an attorney who has served as the Foundation’s president for the past 25-years, says she will to retire at the end of this year. Historic City News founder Michael Gold, an under-graduate with his degree in Public Administration, who’s experience is in local law enforcement, both as a sworn and a civilian employee, as well as political science, campaign administration, and voter analysis expert, marks his 20-year career in March, 2020 and retirement after the conclusion of the 2020 presidential election cycle in November.
“Twenty-five years ago, when the visionary Miami Herald managing editor Pete Weitzel asked me to run Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, I knew then I would be able to spend my legal career pursuing a passion that I find essential to the health and sustainability of democracy in Florida. Florida’s First Amendment Foundation is the only organization in Florida that focuses its energy and resources on protecting the public’s right to oversee its government and hold it accountable to the electorate,” Petersen said in announcing her retirement. “Of course, that effort requires the vigilance of hundreds of people across the state — reporters, editors, citizens, public officials and government employees — who make sure our system of governance remains open and accessible to its people. It’s been an honor to serve as the president of the First Amendment Foundation over the years, and a privilege to work with so many people devoted to government in the sunshine in Florida, there for all to see and participate in, a standard we all must be willing to fight for in the future, as so many have fought so steadfastly for in the past. I thank everyone who shares this ideal for their support of the Foundation as it continues to work on behalf of all Floridians.”
Petersen intends to stay involved in Florida’s First Amendment Foundation and like causes in retirement. Petersen’s replacement will be announced sometime this fall as will details of her retirement celebration. Gold says he wants Historic City News to be “well represented” in those events.
Lucy Morgan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) and namesake of the “Lucy Morgan Award for Open Government Reporting”, said of Petersen’s retirement, “Barbara is an irreplaceable asset to Floridians. She has fought hard to keep doors and public records open to reporters and Florida citizens seeking help. She will be missed by all.”
Petersen served as president of the board of directors of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and currently serves on its board, as well as the boards of the Florida Society of News Editors and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. A passionate advocate of the public’s right to oversee its government, during her tenure at Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, she has provided open government training to thousands of government officials, public employees, citizen organizations, and reporters across Florida.
Foundation co-founder, Pete Weitzel, stated, “Barbara has been a vigorous voice for openness in local and state government. She has built Florida’s First Amendment Foundation into an effective advocate for transparency, providing an important check on proposed legislation and on local and state government actions that shaded the actions of government. And she has provided Sunshine Law training to both officials and citizens throughout Florida. An important job, superbly done.”
Under Petersen’s leadership, Florida’s First Amendment Foundation worked with Governor Charlie Crist in the creation of the Office of Open Government in the Executive Office of the Governor and has written dozens of friend of the court briefs supporting citizens and the media, including two cases before the United States Supreme Court.
Jim Baltzelle, Former editor of the St Augustine Record, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation, and currently the Director of Local Media (Southeast) for the Associated Press, said of Petersen’s tenure, “Barbara Petersen is a fierce advocate for all Floridians on open access to government meetings and public records. Her tireless work as president of the First Amendment Foundation has set the framework for so many battles to come.”
Before joining Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, she was staff attorney for the Joint Committee on Information Technology of the Florida Legislature, where she worked exclusively on public records legislation and issues. During her years at Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, Petersen has also served as chair of Florida’s Commission on Open Government Reform and on Governor Jeb Bush’s Task Force on Privacy and Technology. Petersen has received many awards during her span as President, including the prestigious American Library Association’s 2018 Eileen Cooke Award honoring those who champion access to government information and the public’s right to know.
A search committee to find Petersen’s replacement has been appointed by the Board of the Foundation. More information about that search will be available in the weeks ahead at www.floridafaf.org.