Consider this column your invitation to attend a seminar to learn about Florida’s open meetings and public records laws.


I know, that sounds a bit dry. But I guarantee you it will be interesting.


Barbara Petersen, the state’s expert on open government, will lead the seminar. And Petersen is anything but dull. She has a way of making the public’s right to know how government operates vitally important.


Here are some particulars.


Doors will open for the "Sunshine Seminar" at 8 a.m. Friday, Nov. 22. It will be held in Room 150 at Daytona State College, which is also known as the DCS/UFC Hall. The hall is at the corner of White Street and Hilton Avenue on the east side of the campus. There is plenty of parking right in front of the hall. My great thanks to DSC for allowing us to use space on campus for this educational event.


The main sponsors of the event are The News-Journal and the First Amendment Foundation. To sign up, go www.floridafaf.org, and click on "products & services" at the top of the page, then click on "training." The cost to attend is $10 for students, $20 for foundation members, and $35 for non-members. Proceeds go to cover the cost of the seminar.


Full disclosure: I am a board member of the First Amendment Foundation. (The Florida chapters of the League of Women Voters and Society of Professional Journalists are also supporting the event.) So I am admittedly biased in favor of FAF’s education efforts, and their lobbying work on behalf of citizens to protect our so-called Sunshine laws. I am also a huge fan of Petersen.


Petersen has been executive director of FAF for the past 25 years, and is stepping down from that role at the end of this year. Over that time, she has done more than any single person to protect the public’s right to know how local and state government operate, and to inform the public on those occasions when government bodies and agencies don’t follow the law.


Is Petersen feisty? Yes, when the moment calls for it. Assertiveness is especially necessary at the state Legislature, where every year some representative or senator thinks up a new reason to keep records or information from the public.


But as reporters and citizens who call her for direction hundreds of times a year know, Petersen’s greatest skill is as an educator. And that’s the approach she takes in the seminars she teaches across the state each year. Indeed, the seminars are held to educate both citizens and public officials about open records and open meetings laws.


As journalists know, most of the people who work in government are supporters of the public’s right to know. They almost always work to make sure they’re complying with the law, not because they need to but because they believe it’s the right thing to do.


But Florida’s Sunshine laws are filled with nuance. Partly that’s the nature of laws. But it’s also a result of all the exemptions legislators have added in the past two decades. And, it’s because technology has changed what constitutes a "record."


Here’s an example by way of a question: Are public officials’ text messages on their cell phones public records? Answer: It depends, but if texts relate to the public’s official business, then the answer is yes.


The other thing about Petersen’s seminars is they are not a monologue but a dialogue. It’s an opportunity for citizens and public officials to ask questions about the law, and to get expert answers in a civil setting.


A final shameless selling point: In today’s highly partisan political environment, the public’s right to know is completely bi-partisan. It doesn’t matter if you are a conservative or a liberal, a Democrat or a Republican. The Sunshine laws are there to protect everyone’s right to know.


I hope citizens, public employees, and hopefully elected officials will attend our Sunshine seminar on Nov. 22. I am certain Barbara Petersen is looking forward to seeing you there.


Rice is The News-Journal’s editor. His email is Pat.Rice@news-jrnl.com