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‘Sunshine Troublemaker’ puts heat on school districts

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in Human Resources

Encouraged by a victory in Polk County Circuit Court, Lakeland resident and public-records gadfly Joel Chandler submitted public records requests to the state’s 67 school districts demanding the names, addresses, ages and telephone numbers of every person covered by the districts’ health insurance plans.

Chandler says he doesn’t plan to do anything with the records. He simply wants them because they are public records. He called the requests “a civics lesson,” the St. Petersburg Times reported. To drive the lesson home, he purposely sought information the districts would not want to share, he told The Gainesville Sun.

Not so fast, many school employees protested. They reminded superintendents and state lawmakers that the request would reveal private medical information about their spouses and children.

Polk County fought Chandler’s initial request last spring at a cost. After finding for Chandler, Circuit Judge Roger Alcott ordered the district to pay his attorneys’ fees, which came to $35,000, on top of the district’s own $20,000 legal tab.

Alcott noted that the names of people covered by a government’s health insurance policy are public records and that he could not “legislate an exemption where none exists.” Florida Assistant Attorney General Lagran Saunders concurred, but suggested that the Legislature should address the issue.

Chandler has at least one fan: The Sunshine Review, a web site devoted to promoting open-records law compliance, named him “Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week.”

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