The University of Florida suffered a major legal loss in its effort to keep secret Student Government records requested in 2009 by then student Frank Bracco under Florida’s Public Record Law.
In a statement Bracco released to KnightNews.com, he praised Monday’s decision by the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Florida which ordered the University of Florida and its Student Government to release meeting records pertaining to Student Senate.
“Today was a major victory for Sunshine advocates in higher education,” Bracco said in his statement. “I hope this case sends a message to the State University System that public meeting records are just that: public.”
An email sent to UF spokesman Steve Orlando Tuesday seeking comment was not returned.
The University of Florida argued a federal education privacy law, known as FERPA, prohibited the university from releasing UF records. UCF SGA routinely uses the same argument in denying similar records to KnightNews.com. Sunshine Law experts and advocates have repeatedly said universities are abusing and misusing FERPA to justify hiding public information.
The major loss to the UF Student Government came on the same day KnightNews.com received an opinion from SGA Attorney General Nicholas Gurney which could save UCF from facing a similar lawsuit from KnightNews.com.
Gurney’s opinion recommends that UCF SGA repeal a statute allowing secret meetings to be held during impeachments. The issue became heated last Summer when SGA President Mike Kilbride refused to back down and open the meetings after a KnightNews.com attorney sent him a letter demanding his administration stop allowing secret meetings.
After pressure grew, Kilbride’s Student Government released a statement saying they’d review SGA policies.
KnightNews.com’s attorney at the time, Rob Rivas, made it clear it was illegal for SGA to continue its secret meetings.
“If the Student Senate expeditiously repeals every provision for secret meetings, they will have done what is required of them by the law,” Rivas said last Summer. “If they don’t, we will make an appointment for a judge to explain it to them, and the SGA will pay my fees. No real lawyer would argue in court in defense of their position.”
SGA dragged its feet on the issue for months, and when KnightNews.com visited the Senate in Fall, almost everyone was unaware of the review Kilbride’s administration said was ongoing. It appeared the review announced by Kilbride’s administration was moving nowhere and a lawsuit from KnightNews.com would be inevitable.
Now that Gurney has released his recommendation stating the statute allowing secret meetings should be removed, KnightNews.com will continue to delay any legal action to allow SGA a chance to follow his advice. If the Senate follows Gurney’s advice, it could help make SGA more transparent.
We’ll have a bigger update over the next few days about other legal issues SGA has faced last year and provide more detail on Gurney’s opinion. We’ll also examine what ripple effects the UF lawsuit could have here on public records at UCF.
Check back to KnightNews.com for updates. You can read Bracco’s full press release on the next page.