Tuesday’s debacle where we were detained by Hialeah police for making a simple public records request was not the only time Joel Chandler was confronted by police for making a public records request during his visit to South Florida this week.
The following day, he was confronted by a pair of plainclothes Miami police officers who threw him out of Miami City Hall for attempting to talk to the city clerk or city attorney over a public records issue.
“They told me I had to leave the building,” he explained.
“I told them the reason I am here is that I am making a public records request, that I am trying to avoid suing the city.”
The cop’s response: “Just sue the city.”
Those cops obviously have nothing to worry about considering how less than two months after the U.S. Department of Justice slammed the Miami Police Department for its tendency to kill unarmed black men, the city commission voted to give them an across-the-board bonus, according to the Miami New Times.
Just because Miami Police officers have a bit of a problem with shooting unarmed black men, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a lil’ sumpin’ sumpin’ extra.
At least, that’s what city commissioners seemed to suggest last night when they gave preliminary approval to a $524 million budget that would give Miami cops a one-time bonus equal to three percent of their salary.
The windfall — which amounts to $6.8 million or roughly half of the city’s 2013 surplus — comes shortly after the Department of Justice slammed Miami Police for a “pattern… of excessive force” that killed seven black men in eight months. Most of the men were unarmed.
Even for Chandler, who has sued countless government agencies throughout Florida for public records violations, his experience in Miami left the Lakeland man shaking his head.
But the goon-like thuggery he experienced down here won’t scare him away from his quest to educate all government agencies about the state’s public records laws as he explained on his blog, Fog Watch.
The degree of lawlessness with respect to public records access in Miami-Dade County was stunning. I’ve been there to conduct audits many times before, but it seems like things are getting worse. I guess it’s time for Education through Litigation…again.
He did not expect Wednesday’s incident to be anything more than a five-minute exercise while his friends waited at the hotel across the street from city hall, which is next door to the City of Miami Municipal Marina. Instead, it took more than an hour of his time.
He was unable to video record the encounter with the cops because his iPad battery had run low, but we can see his exchange with the marina workers in the above video, who falsely tell him that video recording them without their consent is a violation of federal law – as if the City of Miami ever cared about federal law.
The Marina was located across the street from our hotel and we noticed that it was publicly owned and operated on Monday night as we walked back to our hotel from dinner in Coconut Grove. They claim that it is the largest municipal marina in Florida.
On our last day in South Florida I walked across the street to the marina alone.
This encounter became another example of the absurd lengths that some public officials will go to frustrate the public’s right to know. In addition to profound ignorance of their obligations under the Public Records Act, the folks I encountered we very quick to just start making stuff up. They claimed that I was obliged to obey nonexistent rules and laws while ignoring the actual laws they are obliged to obey. Most exasperating was their complete unwillingness to seek counsel from the City Clerk or the City Attorney in spite of my repeated invitations to do so. When I explained that litigation would be the likely outcome they either did not seem to care or outright encouraged me to file suit against the City of Miami.
Chandler said that the only thing that saved him from getting arrested was Miami City Clerk Todd Hannon, who did a good of deescalating the situation, something that most locals have a hard time doing.
Earlier this year, after being confirmed as city clerk, Hannon told the Miami Herald he would make the public records process much more accessible to the general public while implementing his laid-back California style.
“It’s that West Coast mentality,” said Hannon, who lived in California before moving to Miami eight years ago. “I like to think you can be easy-going and still get things done.”
He has big plans for the office, including updating Miami’s electronic records systems and putting the historical archives online. He hopes the state will be willing to help out with the cost.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for the public to access our records,” he said. “We just have to do it smartly and make sure we get the best for our money.”
But he is obviously up against the typical third-world Miami mentality that would rather spend extra money on rewarding cops for violating people’s rights rather than providing a more transparent government.
“If I had gone to jail, we wouldn’t be talking about a public records issue, we would be talking about a federal civil rights lawsuit,” he said.
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