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State News

Top investment official defending decision for $11,000 public records request

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-988832.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – The state's top investment official Tuesday defended his decision to bill a state senator almost $11,000 for a public records request. James Call reports members of the Cabinet criticized such a hefty price tag on public information.

New Port Richey Senator Mike Fasano wants to look at documents detailing how the state board of administration invested 125 million dollars in a company with which the board's executive director once had a business relationship.

"We have sunshine laws in this state. That information should be open transparent to anyone who has legitimacy should be able to see that information."

Ash Williams, the SBA's executive director told Fasano it would take more than 300 hours of staff time to compile the records and Fasano would have to pay about ten thousand 700 dollars to get the information. Williams reports to the state executive cabinet whose members had questions about how he calculated the bill. Attorney General Pam Bondi said she couldn't understand how a public information request could cost so much money.

"I had public record requests for many many years in my capacity as a prosecutor. And I know we have always tried to break down the request in a much more detailed way and actually sit down with members of the media or the public who had requested it. That's an awful lot of money, more than 10 thousand dollars for 3 thousand documents."

Bondi and CFO Jeff Atwater, questioned William's handling of Fasano's request. Williams explained Florida requires the SBA to remove trade secrets and proprietary information from the documents before releasing them. Williams talks like a man caught in the middle of two competing values, the right of the public to inspect government documents and the obligation of an investor to protect trade secrets.

"We're in public service transparency is part of that franchise, we're in the investment business trust is important we want to maintain that trust and we'll do whatever we can within the law to do exactly that."

Senator Fasano thinks Williams is making things more complicated than they need to be. He quickly dismisses Williams' remarks that state laws regarding confidentiality of investments make it difficult to fulfill public information requests.

"The state board of administration uses that law along with other ploys to avoid in my opinion divulging and showing and being transparent as far as documents. When you invest $125 million the taxpayers have a right to know why you did it, what resources you used to do it with and who made that decision."

Bondi offered to work with Williams to provide Fasano the documents in a timely manner at a reduced price. Fasano wants the state senate to force Williams to turn over the information. He has asked the Senate President to subpoena the records.