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Court says SG violated open records law

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Posted: Friday, January 14, 2011 12:10 am | Updated: 12:35 am, Fri Jan 14, 2011.

On Monday, the Alachua County 8th Judicial Circuit Court ruled in favor of Frank Bracco, a UF graduate who filed a lawsuit against UF for denying him access to Student Senate records.

Bracco, a former student senator who graduated in May 2009, filed the suit in August 2009 claiming he was denied access to audio and video recordings of Senate meetings, which he requested in November 2008.

He submitted a request for more videos in June 2009, as well as renewed the requests for the other videos, but said he was denied.

“Public meetings are implied to be open,” said Bracco.

According to the court records, the university argued that recordings of these meetings were protected from distribution under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), as they fell under the category of educational records.

The act provides protection to materials directly relating to a student. According to the ruling, a record that is only peripherally related to a student, in this case the meeting records, is not protected.

In the summer of 2008, Bracco was setting up a project to put videos of the Senate meetings online.

According to Bracco, he previously had access to those records but for some reason he was suddenly denied.

Bracco said that the court ruling represented a “return to sanity.”

“I’m just trying to get records from the University Student Center,” Bracco said.

According to records, the court took into consideration the fact that two videos of the meetings were posted on a UF website, as well as other publicly posted materials such as meeting agendas, lists of participants and records of how individual senators voted on various issues.

The court found that since these records were already available, the videos were not exempt from release under the educational privacy act.

Bracco said the ruling “should make it easier at the University of Florida to see how they’re spending those millions of dollars.”

UF Student Government has a budget of about $14 million.

“The university supports transparency in Student Senate meetings and that has never been in dispute,” said UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes. “We are reviewing the decision along with our obligations under federal law and we cannot comment further at this time.”

Student Body President Ashton Charles, who was Senate president at the time the suit was filed, said the Senate always does its best to comply with public records laws.

“We pride ourself on transparency,” she said.

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