DAYTONA BEACH -- Volusia County government is among myriad taxpayer-funded revenue sources that is a staple of advertising for the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the traditional print medium that has supported its positions as demonstrated by the recent coverage of the continuing scandal in the Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority and the hiring of attorney Jon Kaney to investigate Waverly Media.
Headline Surfer® on Friday made a public records request for a breakdown of the last three years of advertising revenue amounts doled out to media outlets, the criteria fior amounts given and who in county government is specifically making those decisions.
The public records request was addressed to county spokesman Dave Byron in n email and copied to County Manager Jim Dinneen, County Attorney Dan Eckert and the seven elected members of the County Council -- County Chair Jason Davis of Edgewater, at-large member Joyce Cusack of DeLand, Deborah Denys of New Smyrna Beach, Joshua Wagner of Daytona Beach, Pat Patterson of DeLand, Doug Daniels of Ormond Beach and Pat Northey of Deltona.
But Byron put a legal hurdle in the way of the internet newspaper's request. He insisted in order to provide the information requested, he would have to assess costs, citing a provision in Florida's public records statutes.
"As per the Florida public records statute, I will provide a cost estimate as to the staff time involved in gathering the three year advertising expenditure data," Byron wrote back. "I will provide this estimate and will expect payment in advance before proceeding."
Headline Surfer® responded that the assessing of fees is nothing more than his attempt to put a roadblock in front of the internet newspaper's efforts to get a handle on the extent of county revenues being doled out to the News-Journal.
The internet newspaper told Byron it doesn't have "the financial resources for information that should be readily available to the public, adding, "By charging, you are sending a 'chill.' This, too, is a tactic or tool to hide what you don't want the public to see."
Byron shot back that the request covers multiple years and multiple county divisions," adding, "This information will take staff time to gather. There's nothing 'chilling' on my end. Charging for public documents is standard practice for time consuming requests. If this was a simple records request, as a courtesy, I wouldn't charge you, but this will consume a bit of staff time. I am simply following the public records law."
Though technically Florida's public records law allows government entitities to charge fees, but it is not mandatory.
As has been typical with Byron's office for the past five-plus years that Headline Surfer® has been in operation, when public records requests have been requested that are favorable to Volusia County no fees have been assessed. And Byron's office floods the Headliner Surfer® emails daily with press releases that are promotional to the county government operations.
Headline Surfer® had been running more of the county press releases from the onsel than all other media outlets combined, but halted that practice last Fall after several attempts by the internet newspaper to obtain advrertising opportunities with the county fell on deaf ears.
Headline Surfer® estimates based on information on revenue amounts from other government entities as well as anecdotal information obtained here and there that the Daytona Beach News-Journal receives upwards of $1.5 million annually in taxpayer supported advertising.
These government entities benefitting the News-Journal include but are not limited to Volusia County government, many of Volusia County's 16 incorporated municipalities and those with community redevelopment agency districts commonly referred to as CRAs and state-supported Daytona State College.
Still more publicly-funded advertising sources for the Daytona Beach print paper include the three taxing districts to cover costs of indigent care that go to the public hospitals in West Volusia, Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach and Bert Fish Hospital in New Smyrna Beach.
And though the News-Journal doesn't always get direct funding from any of the three advertising authorities in the county, it has received revenues indirectly through local merchant groups and chambers of commerce that put on local tourism-related events.