On Tuesday, July 26, 2022 Cocoa City Council approved changes to the city’s Public Records Policy which hasn’t been updated since 2013. Many of the changes that were made to this policy were to clarify language and recognize and include legal updates to the public records law that we are required to include in our policy. Items such as lien searches were removed from the policy because our City Clerk’s office no longer handles those requests and audio tapes were removed from the fee schedule since we no longer provide items on tape. There were also additions of written standards that clarify existing practices in a more transparent manner.
The changes that were approved to the policy do not circumvent anyone’s right to public records. Moreover, the Florida Legislature has determined that the taxpayers should not have to shoulder the entire expense of responding to an extensive request for public records and allows government entities the ability to charge for time needed to provide those public records when extensive staff time is needed.
An example of a recent request for information has been posted on social media stating the city is making it cost prohibitive to get public records. This is a great example of not putting the financial burden of requests on the taxpayer. This request was to have copies of all of the submissions for the recent Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) proposals. These are federal dollars that the City receives to assist organizations that provide much needed social services to our community. These proposals include both financial and personal information of the submitting organizations that are required by law to be removed or blacked out before we release the documents to the requestor. There were four different submissions for this proposal totaling over 300 pages of information. City staff is required by law to review each page to ensure that financial and personal information is not shown for over 300 pages and copies must be made of those documents. An estimate was provided to the requestor of $240.00. This includes the cost of the copies and the staff time to review through all of the documents and remove the required information. Should the rest of the 19,040 citizens of Cocoa have to bear that cost from one requestor? The Florida Legislature says no.
The changes to the policy do not change how we fulfill records requests. If the request is minimal and can be provided easily, there will be no charge for the requestor. In fact, in the past 6 months, 91% of the requests received the requestor was not billed. If the request incurs a significant amount of staff time to fulfil, there will be a charge to the requestor. The changes in the policy that were recently approved do not change that. We have always and will continue to abide by the Florida Law regarding public records requests.