University of Florida’s Brechner Center Director Heads New FOI Project; Assistant Director To Take Over as Brechner Center Director
Terry Hines, Ph.D., Dean
As a result of a major new freedom of information initiative to be conducted out of the University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, the center’s long-time director and eminent scholar Bill Chamberlin is leaving the center director position to assume responsibility as director of the new project.
Assistant director of the Brechner Center, associate professor and media law attorney Sandra Chance will take over as Brechner Center director. The changes are effective July 1.
“These administrative reassignments are the natural outcome of the college’s good fortune in attracting the funds to establish the Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project,” said Terry Hynes, dean of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications, where the Brechner Center is housed.
“The MBCAP will evaluate citizen access to public information in every state in the nation. It is a monumental undertaking and has never been attempted precisely for that reason. It became clear very quickly after we received the funding commitment that directing the MBCAP would be a major, full-time undertaking,” Hynes said.
Chance joined the Brechner Center in 1993. Prior to joining the center and the journalism faculty, Chance was an attorney with Holland and Knight in Tampa. She represented many of Florida’s leading newspapers, as well as television and radio stations throughout the southeast.
As assistant director of the center, Chance has been directly involved in a wide range of center activities and is a nationally recognized expert on freedom of information. Journalists, public officials, media lawyers and citizens around the country call on her for help with questions about access to government information. Chance has presented dozens of workshops and seminars on freedom of information and is frequently quoted in regional and national media as an FOI expert.
“Her knowledge and expertise will insure that the Brechner Center maintains and strengthens its regional and national reputation as a leader on FOI issues,” Hynes said.
“The Brechner Center plays a crucial role in protecting access to information by helping educate citizens, journalists and government officials. We promote understanding regarding the importance of freedom of information laws. These laws allow citizens to know what their government is up to and the media to fulfill their vital role as government watchdog,” she added.
“I’m delighted to be taking over the director position at this time in the history of the Brechner Center and FOI issues,” Chance said.
“For years, the public demanded and elected officials passed laws which increased access to information about our government’s activities. However, those days are gone,” Chance added. “Access advocates report more challenges to open government than ever before. Access to information is now threatened at every level of government as the battle rages over who owns information.
“As we move into the new millennium, our challenge will be to insure that access to information, which is so fundamental to our democracy, remains a basic right for our nation’s citizens,” Chance said.
Chance has also been asked to share her expertise with other countries, especially emerging democracies interested in passing freedom of information laws. Chance travels to Brazil in June, for example, to discuss the importance of freedom of information legislation.
“This will give us an unprecedented opportunity to assist the Brazilian government and the country’s journalists in understanding the value to a functioning democracy of laws insuring access to information,” Chance said.
Chamberlin has been center director since the center was established in 1987. He joined the UF faculty that year as an eminent scholar and is nationally known as an expert in freedom of information and related issues in communication research.
As director of the MBCAP, Chamberlin will direct the project’s development, implementation and maintenance. The initial four years of the project will involve the compilation of information about laws regarding public access and freedom of information in all 50 states. Thereafter, information on every state will be updated each year.
“Thanks to Marion Brechner, we have the challenging opportunity of ranking all state open meetings and public records laws,” said Chamberlin. “The project will lead to an improved understanding of the role public information plays in allowing citizens to observe and criticize their government. This is an exciting and unique opportunity to contribute to the self-governing in our country.”
Chamberlin also will hold the title of “founding director of the Brechner Center” after July 1.
The Brechner Center is the successor to the Florida Freedom of Information Clearinghouse, established in 1977 by then-Dean Ralph Lowenstein with the support of Paul Hogan, then head of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Many of the funds for the clearinghouse endowment were provided by the Florida news media. For nearly 10 years, the Clearinghouse operated under the direction of Professor Jo Anne Smith. In 1986, Joseph L. Brechner, an Orlando broadcaster and advocate of freedom of information, provided more than $1 million for an eminent scholar endowment, center offices, and center operations.
The Brechner Center is nationally recognized for its leadership in advocating and providing information about access to government meetings and records. The center answers questions from journalists, media lawyers, public officials and citizens about media law; rewards the best mass media articles about freedom of information with its annual Brechner Award; produces research; sponsors conferences; and produces numerous publications, including The Brechner Report, a monthly review of media law issues in the state of Florida.