PINAC reporter Jeff Gray conducted a public records audit at the town hall of Penney Farms last month, a tiny town in North Florida known more for its retirement community than its farms that describes itself as “one of the best kept secrets” in the state.
And judging by town clerk Anita Cooper’s refusal to comply with one of his request, it’s certainly living up to that promise.
Cooper called Gray a “real asshole” for refusing to identify himself or provide any other personal information, which he is not required to do under Florida public record law.
She also stepped out of the building to photograph Gray’s car while he was inspecting the sign-in sheets for the town’s public meetings, which is her right, but she later denied it, refusing to provide those photos during a follow-up public records request, which is not her right.
But, of course, she denied the request thinking he did not have evidence that she did, indeed, photographed his car.
However, not only did his dash cam record her and town manager David Cooper photographing his car, his iPhone, which he had left recording near her desk after he had walked into another room to inspect the records, captured her speaking on the phone with somebody describing Gray’s actions.
“His camera has a microphone on the top, so I know I’m being taped, this is a public office, I get that,” she said.
“He won’t identify who he is, I asked him to fill out a form, but he doesn’t want to fill out the form, he doesn’t want to give any personal information out. To me, the whole thing is suspect, so I don’t like it, I feel very weird.
“He was a real asshole.”
A real asshole for choosing to keep his personal information private? Certainly the town administrator of the best kept secrets in Florida would understand that decision.
Cooper also admitted to whomever she was speaking to that she went out and took photos of his car as well as “a bunch of pictures of him while he was in here, too.”
Upon hearing the recording, Gray responded by making additional public records requests for the photos taken by both David and Anita Cooper that day.
David Cooper complied with the requests by providing the photos he took, but Anita denied ever taking any photos.
She continued to deny she took photos even after Gray returned to town hall to pick up his initial requests.
“I never took any pictures,” she claimed.
In his video, Gray points out that this refusal to comply with his public records request is a misdemeanor that could result in her being removed from her position, not that public records violators are ever disciplined in Florida.
In fact, legislators this week are prepared to pass a new law that would further insulate public records violators from discipline.
But as Florida public records attorney John McKnight explained in-depth in a PINAC article published today, the law is very clear and does not need to be changed.
It’s just a matter of public officials complying with the law, which as you can see in this video, they really don’t like doing.