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Sierra Club files suit against University of Florida over public records

The Sierra Club has filed suit against the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (aka IFAS) over what it says are violations of public records laws. The lawsuit, which was filed yesterday, comes as a result of “years of refusal by IFAS to respond to legitimate questions asked by the Sierra Club and local governments with regard to contradictory messaging about urban fertilizer management.”

“The records sought will provide the names of the external and internal reviewers, and their reviews, of several IFAS papers that have been created for and used by the opponents of urban fertilizer regulation, and details regarding the decision-making process that led a handful of IFAS administrators to denounce and lobby against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s and IFAS’ own Florida-friendly urban fertilizer recommendations,” according to a press release.

In March 2009, IFAS released a publication titled “Unintended Consequences Associated with Certain Urban Fertilizer Ordinances” that promoted less protective standards than those found in the earlier “Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Handbook,” a guide published by IFAS and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Shortly after the release of “Unintended Consequences,” the Sierra Club requested “that IFAS stop transmitting it to local governments as the ‘official’ position held by the University on urban fertilizer management until such time as it was adequately vetted.” In April 2010, UF informed the Sierra Club that the publication had indeed been internally and externally reviewed and would be revised. A July 2010 public records request, followed by subsequent requests in 2011, went largely unanswered.

According to the Sierra Club’s complaint, university representatives responded to one request with a cost estimate of $6,018 plus $89.61 per hour for an attorney’s time. They estimated the time involved to be 200 hours — for a grand total of $23,940.

The Sierra Club is asking that the records withheld by the university be deemed public, and that the school make them available for inspection.

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