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Why the secrecy on a wreck, a gun and a dead woman? | Editorial

Here are three examples of routine information Tampa Bay governments kept from the public this week.
From left to right: Florida Department of Transportation workers inspect damage to the Interstate 175 overpass at Sixth Street S caused by a roll-off dumpster truck that left its hydraulic arm upright, according to St. Petersburg police [JAMES BORCHUCK | Tampa Bay Times]; Former Pinellas school guardian Erick Russell, 37, is accused of pawning the Glock 17 9mm semiautomatic pistol, body armor and two magazines he was issued to protect students [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]; Johnna Lynn Flores [AUSTIN ANTHONY | Tampa Bay Times] [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Sep. 20

There are state secrets regarding national security or personal privacy that understandably are not public. Then there is basic information regarding events in the public arena that should be routinely available but too often is not. It’s a disturbing trend, and here are three local examples from just this week:

-- In St. Petersburg, a dumpster truck damaged concrete beams under the Interstate 175 overpass, causing $300,000 in damage and inconveniencing drivers as repairs are made. Yet hours after the accident, the driver’s identity was not released, a police report was not available and it wasn’t even clear if the cause was machinery malfunction or human error. Why?

-- A former Pinellas County school guardian was arrested earlier this month on charges of domestic battery and false imprisonment. The Pinellas Sheriff’s Office says the man also has been accused of pawning the semiautomatic pistol he was issued to protect students. Yet the Pinellas School District would not confirm Erick Russell had worked as a school guardian at Cross Bayou Elementary even though Sheriff Bob Gualtieri confirmed it. Why?

-- Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies found a woman dead in the same house where a man shot and killed his wife’s lover six years ago. The sheriff’s office continues to hide behind its pinched interpretation of a constitutional amendment that includes provisions to protect the rights of crime victims -- even though this victim is dead and the medical examiner’s office confirmed it received a body that is obviously the victim. Why?

Florida is no longer the Sunshine State with regard to basic public records. That leaves the public in the dark and unable to hold accountable government officials or private businesses engaged in public actions.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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