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News Story
Updated: 04/12/2014 08:00:01AM

‘Sunshine Law’ exemption unneeded

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Opponents of Florida’s nationally-heralded “Government in the Sunshine” law grasp at every opportunity to declare some crisis that demands keeping citizens in the dark about what their government is doing.

One of the most frequent issues for hand-wringing is the hiring of public servants at salaries that the taxpayers who pay them can only dream about.

Two cases in point from today’s headlines are the search for the first president of the fledgling Florida Polytechnic University in Polk County, and for the 17th president of Florida State University since its creation as the Seminary West of the Suwannee River in Tallahassee in 1887.

Despite the fretting over the fact that the hiring of such employees is a public process, 44 candidates have applied for the presidency of Florida Poly. That’s not bad for a university that has not held a single class, will not be accredited until 2016, and will open for business with a student enrollment of 500 and a faculty of 31 full-time and 12 part-time members.

To put things in perspective, the average high school in Florida has 1,460 students.

In Tallahassee, a Penn State moving van on Friday loaded up the household goods of Eric Barron, president of Florida State University. After first rejecting overtures from Penn State, Barron finally accepted a salary offer of $6.9 million for six years to take the helm of a school with a $4 billion annual budget.

Barron, one of the most highly regarded presidents in recent FSU history (as well as a graduate of the university), was hired by FSU four years ago in the full glow of Florida’s sunshine. He was preceded by such heavyweights as T.K. Wetherell and Sandy D’Alemberte.

Clearly the opportunity to become president of a Florida university does not relegate the state to searching the ranks of the unemployed.

While this may be contrary to conventional wisdom, we believe that Florida is well served when it hires a person who has the moral courage to go to his or her present employer and say, “I like it here, but there is an opportunity in Florida that I just have to pursue.”

We believe, perhaps naively, that a person with that strength of character has demonstrated the courage of his or her convictions, a trait that will serve the new employer well.

As a practical matter, few journalists have the patience to sit through endless resumé reviews and tedious interviews involved in the hiring process. But the knowledge that this option exists can only instill a sense of accountability in the process.

Florida’s Sunshine Law was designed to serve the interests of the public, not the interests of those who would prefer to conduct the public’s business in private.

It should be preserved without further erosion.


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