Let’s Not Get Everyone Sued, Fired, and Lampooned on the Internet Before Lunch

| Written by: Zoe Linafelt

The FPRA-Capital Chapter’s first meeting of 2015 was held at our new luncheon location: the Capital City Country Club. Huge congratulations go to all our new members and a thank-you to everyone who attended the luncheon.

A few notes/reminders:

Alexis Lambert gave a presentation on Internet protocol and the Sunshine Law. Lambert currently runs the Office of Public Accountability for the mayor of Jacksonville where she manages the public records requests for 13,000 city email accounts. She shared her expertise on navigating open government and public records in regards to the Sunshine Law. She also offered anecdotes and tips for avoiding Internet blunders.

Kosher law dictates that meat should be kept on one set of dishes and dairy on another and the two should never touch. Lambert applied this concept to open government as well. To dodge Internet gaffes and embarrassing interactions on government email, it is important to keep things separate. Here are Lambert’s words of wisdom on the matter:

  • If you’re not comfortable with it being printed in the newspaper, don’t put it in a government email account. Also, don’t email it TO a government email account.
  • If it’s on the Internet, it’s not private. “Personal twitter account” is not a real disclaimer. Stop trying to make that happen. It’s never going to happen.
  • No court has ever held “I DECLARE CONFIDENTIALITY” to be valid.
  • And let’s not be stupid with text messages, shall we?

Lambert answered some great questions from attendees. We learned most public record requests are for budgets, travel records and calendars. People generally want to see where money is going when they make requests. These requests can be made by email, phone or in person. Requests can also be made anonymously and no reason has to be given for the request. Exemptions exist, but are very specific (bank accounts, social security numbers, etc.).

Government employees should keep all sent and received emails for a period of time. Private contractors working with a government agency should be aware that all records with that government entity are public. While most documents and correspondences are public record, student emails are not.

The Schwab Test comes from the 1992 court case News and Sun-Sentinel Company v. Schwab, Twitty, & Hanser Architecture Group which involved open records laws. The case specifically dealt with how open record laws apply to publicly funded, private corporations. The case created criteria for determining if a private corporation is acting on behalf of a public agency. These criteria include:

  • The amount of public funding
  • Whether or not the funds are mixed with city funds
  • If the activities occur on public property
  • If the service constitutes a key aspect of the decision making processes of the body
  • If the service provided is a function of the body
  • Public control of the company
  • If the corporation was created by the agency
  • If the public agency has an invested financial interest in the corporation
  • Who is benefiting from the corporation

New location! Our 2015 meetings will continue to be held on the third Thursday of every month at the Capital City Country Club. Our next meeting is set for February 19 with guest speaker Sarah Robinson, author of Amazon bestseller,  “Fierce Loyalty: Unlocking the DNA of Wildly Successful Communities.” Her topic for the Big Bend’s PR professionals: “How to Create the Happiest Clients and Stakeholders on Earth.”