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PNJ Will Host Sunshine Seminar

TheFirst Amendment Foundationis returning to Pensacola, to host another “Sunshine Seminar.”

Sponsored by the Pensacola News Journal, the seminar on Florida’s open records and media lawsis set for Wednesday at Seville Quarter. FAF President Barbara Peterson will convene, as she did at a similar event held at the Saenger Theater in August of last year for city employees. Peterson spoke on keeping open government open, in compliance with state law.

“Article I, Section 24-B of the Florida Constitution: we have both a statutory right, and a constitutional right of access to the meetings of our government,” said Petersen. “

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward organized the Sunshine Seminar last year, after City Administrator Bill Reynolds resigned and Press Secretary Derek Cosson was transferred for mishandling public records requests. Hayward said he wanted city employees and officeholders to come away from the session unafraid to ask questions about the law.

“I want them to feel confident that they can pick up the phone and call the First Amendment (Foundation),” said Hayward. “I thought it was important to take a leadership role in this.”

The Foundation conducts a series of Sunshine Seminars each year around Florida. After the Pensacola workshop, FAF will travel to Tallahassee; Ocala, Orlando, Deerfield Beach, Naples, Fort Myers, Tampa and Jacksonville.

While Florida’s Sunshine Law is only a few paragraphs and three requirements, Petersen said last summer it’s the most complicated area of law she’s ever seen. The first requirement is that “meetings of public agencies must be open to the public.”

Peterson will speak in the morning session, which kicks off at 8:30 a.m., and will provide a basic overview of Sunshine issues.

“We cover both the openings meeting law, the Sunshine Law, and the public records law,” said Petersen. “The participants will have lots of opportunity to ask questions about the law.”

The afternoon session begins around 1:15, featuring Peterson and media law expert Dennis Larry. Petersen hopes that participants will take away from the seminar a greater appreciation for open government.

“I get this question all the time,” said Petersen. “’Why do we need good, open government?’ Well, the purpose of these laws is so that we can oversee our government and hold it accountable for its actions. And frequently I think, government employees and government officials tend to lose sight of that.”