Monday, March 12, 2012

Lakeland, Fla., man named the top Local Hero for Sunshine Week 2012, which runs through Saturday

Joel Chandler of Lakeland, Fla., who has waged a one-man campaign for government transparency in his state, is the Local Hero of the national 2012 Sunshine Week observance, which runs through Saturday, March 17.

Chandler "has filed more than two dozen open records lawsuits, securing the release of school, police, prison and medical examiner records," says a press release from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, prime co-sponsor of Sunshine Week with the American Society of News Editors. Chandler, who runs a data collection business, publishes an online review of government transparency in the state called FOGWatch, for Florida Open Government Watch. He will be rewarded with an expense-paid trip to the ASNE convention in Washington, D.C., April 2-4, where he will be recognized.

"Chandler’s open government activism began five years ago with a simple request for a copy of the school district’s health insurance policy. The district refused, releasing the information only after Chandler complained to the state attorney’s office," the release says. "A year later, he filed a request for names, addresses and other information about the district’s 13,000 employees. When the district refused, he sued and won. Chandler told the Lakeland Ledger that his fight with the district was like 'dealing with a bully.' He began aggressively looking for other ways agencies were hindering citizen access to information, which led to a successful suit against the area medical examiner over fees charged for autopsy reports. Chandler also sued the Lakeland police for its “flat fee” policy, and he recently won a lawsuit for records of a privately operated prison. His public records research led to a suit against the Department of Transportation over a policy that pulled aside drivers who tried to pay Florida Turnpike tolls with a $20 bill or higher while officials wrote down the make, model and tag number of the car, records that he says show racial profiling. He also used public records to show that a charity that received more than $400,000 in public funds had spent less than $10,000 on the designated program."

The runner-up for the Local Hero Award was Eric Rachner of Seattle, who forced the city's police department to make public the records of police activity videotaped with cameras on patrol-car dashboards. Placing third was Suzanne McCrory of Mamaroneck, N.Y., "who, without an attorney, successfully sued her village twice for withholding records. In one case, it took her several years to obtain the financial disclosure statement filed by the chairman of the planning board. Ultimately, she got the records, the chairman resigned, and the village modified its ethics code to ensure that disclosure statements are routinely available to the public." Rachner and McCrory will get $500 and $250, respectively.

Sunshine Week is funded by grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Gridiron Club its foundation of Washington, D.C. For more information, go here.

1 comment:

Ed Marksberry said...

When I ran for Congress, I pushed what I called a Citizens Responsibility Initiative, where we as citizens played a bigger role with where our tax monies were being spent. We need more transparency and accountability with institutions that use our tax payers’ dollars. I presented this idea at a Tea Party meeting and one fellow confronted me and said, “it sounds like your for bigger government”, I said, “sir, it’s called a citizens responsibility initiative.”
I believe we have been hood winked by governing boards into thinking we can’t play a bigger role. Thanks Mr. Cross for the article.