A labor attorney for the City of Quincy responded to questions put to him about public records requests and Florida’s Sunshine Law requirements.
Robert Edward Larkin III said the city must operate under the presumption that all records are considered public unless they meet exemption requirements under state law, i.e., if they include social security numbers, involve drug testing information or medical issues, among others.
“If someone asks for public records, you are not required to answer questions but have to produce (those) records as soon as possible; (they) can (ask for) as many as they want and can ask multiple times. You are not allowed to dictate a certain number of days (it will take) to produce,” said Larkin. “Whatever it is, is allowed unless done in an inordinate amount of time. Everything we do should be done in the sunshine unless exempt – law enforcement officers, firefighters, home addresses, etc.,” he said.
Larkin said all requests should be evaluated on the amount of time and a determination of what is exempt or confidential. Some (items) can be left out or redacted,” he said, adding that medical records could be left out while social security numbers could be redacted.
Commissioner Derrick Elias said an email to Larkin from interim city manager Mike Wade included questions (about issues) Wade couldn’t answer.
“Any citizen, council members, anyone can make a public records request,” responded Larkin.
“Mr. Wade had questions about drug tests - that’s exempt,” said Larkin, adding that the city would be open to litigation if they do produce.
“A council (person) does have the right to request (records). If Quincy doesn’t keep documents that are requested, you don’t need to create anything just to respond to the record request. You also can charge reasonable copying costs. If someone asks for 200-300-400 records, (you need to charge) for the time needed to produce and reasonable costs of producing,” he said.
As to questions the board had about normal day-to-day activities of the city manager, Larkin said that activity was the city manager’s job. “You can be monitoring, (but) the city manager is the liaison between the public and citizens and the city council,” said the labor attorney. He added that the council shouldn’t put themselves in any position that could lead to their being called as witnesses in litigations. “It’s better that you leave management (of the city) to the manager,” he said.
Larkin said that council members can’t be deposed (testimony taken) under normal day-to-day law. “If there’s active and ongoing litigation going on, I would advise you as your labor attorney to divorce yourself from that litigation entirely,” said Larkin.
In response to a possible upcoming labor litigation, Larkin said, “That individual has filed and hired an attorney. Remain neutral and out of those matters completely. Let the court take its course. You have competent legal representatives to assist the city.”