WEST PALM BEACH – When Lisa Interlandi, a lawyer with the nonprofit Everglades Law Center, requested the email list of the South Florida Water Management District, the latter alerted its customers to the fact, using an email subject of “Your Privacy.”
"As you may know,” reads the SFWMD’s email, sent Aug. 22, to its users, “Such email lists and addresses are commercial commodities that are often bought and sold. The law prohibits SFWMD from asking about the intended use for the information. Any concern you may have about a potential invasion of privacy is understandable."
This was a “cheap shot,” according to Richard Hamann, a former member of the ELC’s board and an associate-in-law at the Center for Governmental Responsibility.
"I thought it was unprecedented and an aggressive PR thing to do,” Hamann told the Florida Record. “I've never seen anything like it. It sort of sets a pattern where (the SFWMD has) lately been extremely hostile to environmental groups and issues."
Hamann said this isn’t the first time the SFWMD has responded like this to public information requests.
"You sort of get the feeling that they're picking fights,” he said. “You see it with their behavior toward the U.S. Fishing and Wildlife Service. For example, there's a forum that's being organized on the Caloosahatchee River and they had some sort of an aggressive statement about that.”
Hamann said that requesting a public records email list is not a “nefarious” act, but rather, the requestor could use the emails just to present their side of a discussion.
"I guess you might use it to communicate your own ideas about public policy issues,” he said. “Maybe you want to respond to some of the stuff that the water management district is sending out, to counteract it perhaps, provide alternative information to the same people that they're in communication with.”
Hamann gave his opinion on why the SFWMD has given these responses.
“It depends on who they're trying to look good for,” he said. “They have an audience of people who applaud them for that type of behavior -- Donald Trump-type people. People who like sticking it in the eye of groups they don't agree with.
“It's some sort of conservative, alter-conservative young hotshot PR person that's in charge of the press releases,” he continued. “That's what I got."
Most state agencies include a disclosure at the bottom of agency emails stating that Florida, per public records law, most written communication among state officials regarding state business is considered publicly available. The SFWMD, however, has no such disclosure included in the emails it sends to its more than 5,000 email subscribers.