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Date of Issue: March 24, 2010

Boardwalk grant sparks interest

Anna Maria resident Maureen McCormick of Magnolia Avenue has asked the city for a copy of the 2005 federal grant application to fund a proposed boardwalk at the city pier, along with copies of any city records, correspondence, e-mails or documents related to the application.

The request came just one week after Sarasota public records law expert Michael Barfield asked the city for all public and private e-mails of Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus and planning and zoning board member Jim Conoly that pertain to official city business.

The pier grant application was written by Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick, at that time a private citizen.

 The grant was approved for $358,000, but was increased to $890,000 last year, when additional federal funds became available. The grant is administered by the Florida Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the design plans for the project.

McCormick said she requested the information because she is interested in the project and wanted to understand the grant process.

City officials said it would cost McCormick about $250 to collect and copy all the e-mails, letters, documents and the original grant application.

Under Florida’s Sunshine Law, government entities have a right to charge for the costs associated with compliance with a records request requiring extensive work such as McCormick’s.

Mattick, who also chairs the transportation enhancement grant committee working with the DOT on the project, began holding public meetings on the boardwalk when the committee was organized in 2006.

The committee hopes to have the boardwalk in place by April 2011, when the city holds the centennial celebration of the city pier.

The DOT is expected to have the boardwalk design plans ready for commission review and approval around April 1, if not sooner, Mattick indicated.

Florida e-mail rules need updating

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum last week asked Secretary of State Kurt Browning to update administrative rules on the guidelines to retain electronic communications such as e-mails from personal computers and Blackberrys.

The request came after McCollum’s Sunshine Technology Team meeting in Tallahassee concluded that electronic communications “were not necessarily transitory by nature and could be retained easily.”

McCollum asked Browning to consider establishing a “rule-making process updating the retention schedule for electronic communications, including a period for public comment, the opportunity for public hearings and the ability of all parties to submit changes to draft rules.”

The Florida Department of State presently regards electronic communications from any source as “transitory” and has no retention guidelines for these communications, a press release from McCollum’s office said.

McCollum formed the technology team following a controversy involving Blackberry PIN messages among the Florida Public Service Commission members and staff.

The team was charged with exploring and understanding the Blackberry technology in government communications “and their implications on Florida’s open government laws,” the release said.

The team examined how Blackberry communications could be captured, retained and disclosed under Florida’s Sunshine and public records laws.

McCollum’s team met three times in an open-government forum with media law attorneys and open-government advocates present.

Under Florida law, e-mails to and from public officials about official business are a matter of public record.

Anna Maria has already instituted a system to retain e-mails related to public business.

In early 2009, the city established e-mail accounts for all elected officials, city staff and members of volunteer boards. The system server automatically saves all e-mails and communications to and from the accounts.

 The system was approved by the city commission after city treasurer Diane Percycoe informed the commission that the Venice City Commission lost a $1 million lawsuit, in part because it did not retain e-mails to and from its elected officials.

Anna Maria’s e-mail retention system was put to use recently when Michael Barfield of Sarasota requested all the e-mails relating to official business of Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus and planning and zoning board member Jim Conoly.

Barfield, an expert on Florida’s Sunshine and public records laws, said he assisted the lawyers who won the case against Venice.