Nothing Personal

Dade County peddles public records - including yours - for a profit

What the Public Access concept reflects more broadly, Kiernan stresses, is an attitude that county governments - especially cash-starved outfits such as Dade - should be run more like businesses than bureaucracies. "If I could make millions and millions off of [selling mailing labels], that's just great, because the whole idea is to make a profit and return it to the general fund. It benefits the citizens of Dade County and that's the bottom line."

The bottom line nationally is that county governments are stampeding to Public Access. In California, Idaho, and Virginia, the systems are becoming de rigueur in areas where computer infrastructures exist. Closer to home, the counties of West Palm Beach and Hillsborough are considering starting up programs.

In Pinellas County, Public Access has attracted nearly 700 clients since its 1989 inception, including the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa office of the FBI. Program director Dave Sitter says he understands there are risks to marketing public information for private consumption, but he contends that it beats the tar out of the old system.

"I feel good about it, as a county employer and as a taxpayer, because we've gotten ripped off so many times by people coming in and saying, `Hey, I want that information,' then going out and making a bundle of money off it for themselves. And we, the taxpayers who paid for that information to be stored, are left with nothing.

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