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Columbia County a Model of Public Record Access Commissioner Tim Murphy Has a Problem

Photo of Commissioner Tim Murphy with copy: are  public records about the record or the person requesting them?
Photo: Columbia County Observer

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Other than during the reign of the legendary Jackson P. "Jack" Berry at the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, agencies throughout Columbia County have been models of public record access. Last Thursday night, Commissioner Tim Murphy had a problem.


Florida's public record law was for decades the bellwether of America and even with the Florida Legislature piling on public record exemption after public record exemption Florida still has one of the most expansive public records law in the nation.

Florida's public records law does not require a request to be in writing; does not require an individual requesting a record to identify themselves; nor is a person required to demonstrate a need for the record.

The Florida Statutes defines the term "custodian of public records" to mean "the elected or appointed state, county, or municipal officer charged with the responsibility of maintaining the office having public records, or his or her designee."

Florida courts have found that the term "custodian" of a public record refers to all agency personnel who have it within their power to release or communicate public records.

No Florida law requires agencies to keep track of those who make public record requests or the requests themselves.

That would seem simple enough.

Columbia County

At the time of this article, the 2009 County Public Records Policy is what is on the County's website and is in alignment with many documents produced in the era of County Manager Dale Williams: undated with no revision number.

This no date practice continues in the County to this day.

Throughout Columbia County, all agencies including the Constitutional Officers, Lake Shore Hospital Authority, FGC, and Lake City take timely response to public records seriously and the nightmare one hears in other counties and communities are few and far between in Columbia County, although recent issues at Workforce Florida (Florida Crown) are the exception.

Thursday Evening at The 5
What is Commissioner Tim Murphy Talking About?

As the bimonthly meeting of the County 5 came to a close your reporter asked County Manager Ben Scott for a record and thought nothing more of it.

Commissioner Tim Murphy, who is running for a  second term, took exception.

After almost 4 years in office and claims of attending meetings and following government for years before he was elected, Mr. Murphy was unaware of how one can make a public record request.

Shortly after your reporter requested a record regarding the County Attorney, Mr. Murphy asked County Manager Ben Scott, "Ben, on the public records request, when an individual makes a public records request -- can they just do it verbally?"

County Manager Scott responded, "Yes sir. You can't require anything in writing."

Mr. Murphy asked, "All the requests go through one person or are retrieved through one person? I mean different departments can provide whatever they..."

County Manager Scott jumped in, "Different departments can provide it. We do have a public records custodian that is assigned to the County and we ask -- the Fire Department does a lot of public records requests – answers -- and we just ask that they send that to him, so he has a record of it."

With the retirement of Penny Stanley, County Manager Scott assigned the task of public record management to John Crews.

Mr. Murphy followed up, "I'd just like, if you don't mind, I would ask staff -- I mean the commissioners may have other input -- and a public request made that whoever, wherever gets it for em' --  I'd just like -- you put it in a memo form that that request should be knowledge to John and put on file."

Your reporter asked Commissioner Murphy, "What are you talking about?"

Mr. Murphy answered, "If they give a public records request to Kevin [Kevin Kirby, Director of Public Works], Kevin goes ahead and does his thing and lets John know that request was made and put it on file."

Your reporter said, "That's what they do."

County Manager Scott said, "That's our policy."

Mr. Murphy followed up, "I just got complaints that's not being followed. I'm not saying it's not. I'm just saying we just need to put some meat in it for our department heads –unintelligible- is not doing a proper job. I think it's a matter that draws consideration. You know -- disciplinary action. 'Unintelligible', one of your manager meetings or in your department head meetings."

Mr. Murphy did not mention who made the complaints or how many there were.

County Manager Scott answered, "I have to discipline myself because sometimes someone asks for something; I've got right it there and give it to them and don't even think about it."

Post Meeting

After the meeting, your reporter asked the County Manager if he knew what Mr. Murphy's problem was.

County Manager Scott said it was the first he had heard of it and was going to ask.

Your reporter had also spoken with a highly placed County official and inquired about Mr. Murphy's public records problem.

The reply, "That should be obvious. Commissioner Murphy wants to know who is requesting records that concern him."


Commissioner Murphy is involved in a contested County Commission race and his opponent, Brandon Beil, has him concerned. Mr. Beil said he has not requested anything regarding Mr. Murphy.

It is unfortunate that after almost 4 years of being in office, he doesn't recognize the County's sterling reputation of public record access and is instead worried about, "Who's asking questions about me?"

Or, maybe records about his uncle, Sylvester "Bucky" Nash, who is also in a contested race for his county commission seat.

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