This case is before us to answer questions certified to be of great public importance. Tribune Co. v. Cannella, 438 So.2d 516 (Fla. 2d DCA 1983). We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const.
The Tampa Times, a now-defunct afternoon newspaper published by the Tribune Co., sought release of the personnel files of three Tampa police officers, pursuant to the Public Records Act, chapter 119, Florida Statutes (1981). The officers had been involved in an incident where a suspect was shot and killed. Sontag, director of administration for the City of Tampa and custodian of the records requested, refused to release the files. Her refusal was based on a city policy of delaying release of personnel files seven days pending notice to the affected employee. The delay had been reduced to three days before the district court filed its opinion. The newspaper persisted in demanding the files, leading to actions in both state and federal court, by the newspaper and by the city and the officers. Following three weeks of intricate legal maneuvering, the city released the personnel files.
During the maneuvers, the newspaper had filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Second District Court of Appeal. Although the files had been released, the district court took jurisdiction because the problem was "capable of repetition yet evading review." Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 95 S.Ct. 553, 42 L.Ed.2d 532 (1975). In an en banc decision, the Second District held, 5-4, that government employee personnel files could be automatically withheld for 48 hours, to allow employees an opportunity to raise any claims that the information should be withheld permanently because
The Tribune challenges the holding that a 48-hour delay is permissible, while the officers have cross-petitioned, urging that they have a privacy interest which must be protected by an automatic delay to allow time to raise the issue. The Court allowed the briefing on the two cases to be consolidated. We hold that no automatic delay is permitted and answer the first question in the negative. The second question is mooted.
We base our decision on the fundamental principle that a municipality may not act in an area preempted by the legislature. We agree with Judge Lehan's cogent dissent to the opinion below on this point, 438 So.2d at 525-26.
Id. at 525. See Rinzler v. Carson, 262 So.2d 661, 668 (Fla. 1972) ("A municipality cannot forbid what the legislature has expressly licensed, authorized or required, nor may it authorize what the legislature has expressly forbidden."); State ex rel. Johnson v. Johns, 92 Fla. 187, 109 So. 228 (1926).
The legislature has clearly preempted local regulation vis-a-vis delay in the release of public records. The Public Records Act, chapter 119, Florida Statutes (1981), provides that "It is the public policy of this state that all state, county and municipal records shall at all times be open for a personal inspection by any person." Section 119.01(1). This fundamental policy in essence places all government records on the table for open inspection by all. While there are certain statutory exemptions from this initial disclosure, section 119.07 and the statutes cross-referenced therein, the public disclosure of the content of all nonexempt records occurs at the moment they become records. See, e.g., Shevin v. Byron, Harless, Schaffer, Reid and Associates, 379 So.2d 633 (Fla. 1980) (information becomes public record when it is "prepared in connection with official agency business which is intended to perpetuate, communicate, or formalize knowledge of some type." Id. at 640); Wait v. Florida Power and Light Co., 372 So.2d 420 (Fla. 1979) (exemptions limited solely to those provided by statute).
To literally place the records on the public table would be unrealistic. The legislature thus provided a procedure for making the records available for inspection. Section 119.07(1)(a) mandates that "Every person who has custody of public records
We have already held that reasonable items and conditions
Wait, 372 So.2d at 425. No provision is made for anyone other than the custodian of records to withhold a record, and the only justification for withholding a record or a portion thereof is the custodian's assertion of a statutory exemption.
The City of Tampa and the police officers urge that an automatic delay is necessary to allow the officers to be present during the inspection of their records,
Delaying inspection to allow an employee to be present during the inspection of his personnel records is not within the legislative scheme. The Act provides for the custodian or his designee to supervise the inspection of records. Section 119.07(1)(a). The sole purpose of custodial supervision is to protect the records from "alteration, damage, or destruction." Wait. The Act does not provide that the employee be present during the inspection, nor even that the employee be given notice that an inspection has been requested or made. The employee's presence could serve no legally cognizable purpose, and any delay to allow such presence is therefore inconsistent with the Act, which contemplates only the reasonable custodial delay necessary to retrieve a record and review and excise exempt material.
As to the argument that an automatic delay is necessary to allow an employee time within which to raise a constitutional challenge, we can only say that the time when the record is requested is not the time to raise such a challenge. The only challenge permitted by the Act at the
We therefore hold that the legislative scheme of the Public Records Act has preempted the law relating to any delay in producing records for inspection. The only delay permitted by the Act is the limited reasonable time allowed the custodian to retrieve the record and delete those portions of the record the custodian asserts are exempt.
Accordingly, the decision of the district court is quashed.
It is so ordered.
BOYD, C.J., and ADKINS, OVERTON, ALDERMAN, McDONALD and SHAW, JJ., concur.