First Amendment Foundation Finds Berry's Withholding of His Credit Report, Wrong
More news about the Lake Shore Hospital Authority
Posted July 11, 2014, 08:40 am
Jackson P. "Jack" Berry: file photo 2014
COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Years ago, before Lake Shore Hospital Authority Manager Jackson P. "Jack" Berry became the Authority's Records Custodian, obtaining records from the Lake Shore Hospital Authority was generally not an issue. With the advent of Mr. Berry's consolidation of power, public records access has become a serious issue.
Recently, Mr. Berry refused to release his background credit report used in the Board's deliberation to hire him. The First Amendment Foundation said this was wrong.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Lake Shore Hospital Authority received a letter from Barbara Peterson, the President of the First Amendment Foundation. Ms. Peterson is one of the preeminent experts in Florida and America in the fields of Open Government and Public Records Law.
The letter was regarding a public records request made by Ms. Barbara Jeffords Lemley on December 2, 2013. Ms. Lemley Jeffords requested the background information report maintained in Mr. Berry's personnel file. This background check was conducted when Mr. Berry was under consideration for the part time Authority Manager position in 2010.
"I will not release the personal credit report without a court order.”
On December 4, 2013, Mr. Berry responded in relevant part to Ms. Jeffords Lemley’s request: “Ms. Lemley Jeffords The requested education verification report is ready. I will not release the personal credit report without a court order.”
On December 6, 2013, after receiving two pages of the four page background report, Ms. Lemley Jeffords asked Mr. Berry for the statutory reason for the exemptions in the first two pages, as well as the reason for the removal of the last two pages of the report, Mr. Berry's credit information.
On December 11, 2013, after Ms. Jeffords Lemley asked again for the statutory exemptions, Mr. Berry replied in an email, "I have responded."
Ms. Jeffords Lemley then attempted to gain access to the report through the open government mediation program run by the Florida Attorney General’s office. She was unsuccessful. The Hospital Authority was unresponsive to the idea. Authority Manager Berry never put the question of whether or not to try and mediate the issue on the Authority's agenda. No one on the Governor appointed board said a word.
On May 9, 2014, five months after Ms. Jeffords Lemley requested the reason for the exemption of the report and after rejecting the Attorney General's mediation program, Authority Board Attorney, Marlin Feagle, opined that the record was exempt pursuant the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.
First Amendment Foundation doesn't agree
The First Amendment Foundation's Peterson’s legal analysis states in part: “It is our opinion that the Board’s assertion that Mr. Berry’s credit report – pages 3 and 4 of the background information report – is exempt from disclosure pursuant to FCRA is ill founded... is founded on a misreading of the federal statute and is not grounded in law.”
Ms. Peterson concluded her letter with the following: “Accordingly, we ask that you rectify this public records violation and immediately provide Ms. Jeffords with a copy of pages 3 and 4 of Mr. Berry’s background information report.”
Yesterday, the Observer asked Mr. Berry, "Do you plan to accept Ms. Peterson’s legal analysis, or do you plan to make Ms. Jeffords Lemley sue you and the Authority to gain access to page 3 and 4 of your background information report, a report that was used in your hiring process?"
Mr. Berry responded, "I have received your e-mail and have referred it to the Attorney."