PINAC Director Sues Miami Beach Mayor Over Refusal To Release Social Media Blocklists

from the blocking-the-public-and-then-blocking-the-public dept

Executive director of Photography is Not a Crime (PINAC) Grant Stern is taking Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine to court over public records request denials. As Fusion's Ethan Chiel reports, the mayor has been busy blocking critics on both Twitter and Facebook, and Stern aims to find out just how many constituents the mayor is tuning out.

[T]he suit demands the release of 30 days of Levine’s tweets, the list of users blocked from commenting on his Facebook page, and records regarding Levine’s radio show. The suit seems to ask Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Court to decide what qualifies as official communication on social media by an elected official.

Stern has some personal experience with Mayor Levine. Facebook comments and tweeted responses by Stern have been deleted and/or met with blocks. The push to have the court issue an opinion on what is or isn't an "official communication" is also prompted by the mayor's actions (or the actions of whoever runs his official social media accounts). As Chiel notes, Stern's (swiftly deleted) Facebook comment requesting a month's-worth of Mayor Levine's tweets (after being blocked on Twitter) was greeted with a hasty rewrite of the mayor's social media account info.

At some point in the intervening period, the about section of Levine’s Facebook page and his Twitter bio were updated with a new disclaimer: “This page expresses the opinions and views of Mayor Levine and not those of the City of MB.”

This hasty rewrite appears to have led directly to the denial the city issued in response to Stern's request for social media blocklists:

Stern received a letter from Deputy City Attorney Aleksandr Boksner who said that the block list for the Facebook account was “not a public record that was made or received in the course of the official business of the City of Miami Beach,” and thus wouldn’t be produced.

Stern's lawsuit [PDF] argues to the contrary: Mayor Levine clearly uses both accounts for official city business.

Levine utilizes Facebook® to communicate the official acts and businesses of the City of Miami Beach to his constituents. Levine’s Facebook® account addresses him as a governmental official and that his current office is the mayor of Miami Beach, Florida. Levine’s account states that he is: “Making Miami Beach the city that works...for its people.”

After a cursory review of Levine’s Twitter® and Facebook®, there’s no question that Levine utilizes social media to communicate the City of Miami Beach’s official business. Levine’s communications include posts such as renaming a Miami Beach street after Muhammad Ali to informing residents of the Zika virus outbreak in the city.

The city has refused to comment on the lawsuit, but it's fairly clear it considers social media accounts off limits for public records requests. That decision may not stand up to judicial scrutiny, however, not even with the hasty appendage of "not the city of MB" wording. Other government agencies have turned over blocklists to requesters, and it's a bit disingenuous to claim a public account disseminating information of interest to constituents is not "public records" subject to Florida's public records laws.

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Filed Under: foia, grant stern, miami beach, philip levine, public records, social media


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2016 @ 6:17pm

    Rather odd disclaimer

    “This page expresses the opinions and views of Mayor Levine and not those of the City of MB.”

    Since when is the position of Mayor divorced from the city?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 24 Oct 2016 @ 8:16pm

      Re: Rather odd disclaimer

      Yes, it is an hilariously poor attempt at wording when the claim is for separation. It kind of leaps out and bites your nose as a mix of incompetence / phoning it in, a sort of fk you, and a have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too mentality.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 24 Oct 2016 @ 9:25pm

      Re: Rather odd disclaimer

      when it is convienent

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      and guess what..., 25 Oct 2016 @ 7:53am

      Re: Rather odd disclaimer

      Florida's public records act defines a covered "agency" as any municipal officer. Like a mayor. Lol.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    KRA, 24 Oct 2016 @ 6:53pm

    Of course they denied it

    Taxpayers are funding the defense of government opacity.

    I also wonder about blocking commenters. I think there's an amendment somewhere about petitioning the government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    afn29129 (profile), 24 Oct 2016 @ 8:20pm

    Parody Account(s)

    Were someone to create a parody account(s) that mock the 'official' Mayors account(s), then we'll see just how long before the parody account are denounced as not being 'official'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      that would be f---ing..., 25 Oct 2016 @ 7:54am

      Re: Parody Account(s)

      hysterical! i think that mayor levine would only love a parody account if it tweets on his #MBrisingabove hashtag

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 24 Oct 2016 @ 10:08pm

    Perhaps one should remind our leaders they work for us and are not above the laws meant to keep them honest.

    Willing to waste taxpayer money fighting to protect a list of people who upset the mayor... perhaps he isn't fit for the office if this is that important.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 25 Oct 2016 @ 4:59am

    The Mayor May Well Be Correct

    The public records law [Ch. 119, generally] only applies to records made or received as part of the entity's business. Unless there is some action on the part of the city's governing board authorizing, or use of city resources supporting, the mayor's facebook page, I think he has a strong argument that it is his and not the city's.

    Officials do not lose all rights to act as themselves during their time in office. You do not get to review the mayor's personal check register, either, nor do you get to review his contributions to his church to see whether he tithes.

    I have not seen the suit, but presume that there are some allegations trying to tie the facebook account to the city. I am of the view that it will not be an easy case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      why not read first?, 25 Oct 2016 @ 7:56am

      Re: The Mayor May Well Be Correct

      That's the most brilliant comment anyone who hasn't read has EVER made EVER in the history of ignorance!

      You're the ignorance king!!!

      God damn you're right.

      Rightest ever.

      More I write that you're right, the righter you are, just don't read anything.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2016 @ 9:39am

      Re: The Mayor May Well Be Correct

      Unless there is [...] use of city resources [supporting] the mayor's facebook page,

      If the comments were made on city computers or during working hours, and are about city business, it would be hard to claim it's entirely a personal page.

      Officials do not lose all rights to act as themselves during their time in office. You do not get to review the mayor's personal check register

      Those checks wouldn't be labeled "mayor". Or if they were, it would be reasonable to assume the mayor is not acting in a personal capacity.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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