Last week, we rode PSTA’s much promoted new Sunrunner bus line and documented discrepancies between what PSTA was saying and doing (article). We found serious operational deficiencies. However, the most serious problem we found on the Sunrunner was a legal one.
The rather serious legal problem for PSTA is this: every Sunrunner bus that PSTA operates violates Florida law, all day every day, by disclosing confidential information that they may not and must not release. In fact, PSTA’s top legal counsel have told us ins writing that “PSTA does not have the discretion to release” to release the information in question. Therefore, and based on recent history PSTA either knows, or should have known, that their actions violated Florida law.
Here’s why: under Florida Law, all bus surveillance camera video is exempt from disclosure in response to public records requests. This is because in 2015, a Florida court found that such videos “reveal the capabilities, and as a corollary, the vulnerabilities of” the surveillance video system. The court found that the “plain language” of the Florida Statute in question (281.301) was “free from ambiguity” in such matters.
But that court decision cuts both ways: the video is not a public record and PSTA may not disclose such videos, either. In fact, PSTA’s top lawyer, General Counsel Alan Zimmet, wrote to the Guardian in March of 2018 that “PSTA does not have the discretion to release the videos other than in accordance with the applicable statutes.”
If this is hard to follow, we apologize. The bottom line is that video from the Sunrunner surveillance system may not be shown because it is confidential information. Yet they do just that…on every Sunrunner…all day long. The below video shows the screen on the Sunrunner, visible to all passengers, that displays the surveillance video.
This isn’t the first time PSTA unlawfully reveals such surveillance video. Despite Zimmet’s unambiguous statement in 2018 that the videos may not be released, in June of 2019 PSTA’s Marketing Director Whitney Fox showed such video as part of a presentation to the St. Pete Beach City Council. We contacted Zimmet about the incident at the time, pointing out that showing this video violated Florida Statute. Zimmet did not respond.
In order to find the truth, we then made a public records request for a copy of Fox’s presentation to the city council to include the video. In response, PSTA cited the aforementioned 2015 court case and the Florida Statute we are citing in saying that the video was not subject to public disclosure.
The video is “confidential and exempt from disclosure,” one of PSTA’s public records administrator wrote us in their email responding to our public records request. “PSTA is required to refrain from disclosing these videos by statute,” the administrator wrote, who is also an executive assistant to PSTA CEO Brad Miller.
It is therefore crystal clear that PSTA agrees that the videos must not be release or shown. Yet we found such confidential surveillance video live on a TV screen on the Sunrunner, as documented in the above video. Showing these videos is the very “release of the videos” that PSTA’s top lawyer Alan Zimmet said PSTA is barred from doing.
Specifically, displaying the video live violates Florida Statute 281.301 because, as the court found, doing so reveals the “capabilities and vulnerabilities of” the surveillance video system. Given PSTA’s history with this topic, PSTA knew or should have known that showing the surveillance video violates Florida law.
We predict that PSTA will quietly stop breaking the law, like they did in 2019, while never admitting that they erred. Perhaps while claiming to be removing the videos “out of an abundance of caution” rather than admitting that the mistake sprung “out of an abundance of incomptence”…to coin a phrase.
The phrase “out of an abundance of caution” is a phrase often used by Pinellas Politicrats (example during COVID) when covering for their violations of Florida law. PSTA’s pattern has been that if they are silent on an allegation of wrongdoing, then the allegation is true. Time will tell how PSTA responds.
As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.
(below: PSTA CEO Brad Miller in a picture from his Twitter feed)