Orlando Broadcasting Executive Marion Brechner Endows Citizen Access Project at the University of Florida

March 31, 1999


Contacts: Terry Hynes (352) 392-0466

Bill Chamberlin (352) 392-9173

GAINESVILLE, FL-A major gift from long-time Orlando broadcasting executive Marion B. Brechner will enable the University of Florida to evaluate citizen access to information about state and local government in every state in the nation.

In announcing the $600,000 gift, expected to be matched with an additional $420,000 from Florida’s matching gifts program, UF President John V. Lombardi said the new Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project will provide "comparative information that will encourage more open government in all 50 states."

It will take four years to compile information about laws regarding public access and freedom of information in all 50 states. Thereafter, information on every state will be updated each year.

The project will be supervised by the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information in UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. Terry Hynes, dean of the college, said no organization in the United States has ever undertaken such a massive, long-term project of this magnitude to help legislators, lawyers, journalists and other citizens understand the open meetings and open records laws in every state.

As a result of the project, information comparing states on a variety of access issues will be disseminated to communication media and legislators in every state, with the data also posted on a permanent web site.

"This is the kind of comparative information that the press and interested individuals throughout the United States have been asking for," Hynes said. "Until now, information has been gathered about individual state access laws but no comprehensive overview of all the laws together has been undertaken on a consistent basis. The Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project will assure complete, comparative data about every state, and the data will be constantly updated as the laws change. That has not been available before."

Eminent scholar and director of the Brechner Center Prof. Bill Chamberlin will supervise the project.

"For the first time, legislators will be able to examine the best and worst laws of the 50 states in several different categories, including access to electronic records, fees, enforcement provisions and privacy protections," Chamberlin said.

In making her donation, Mrs. Brechner said, "I am convinced about the need for this project and the Brechner Center’s ability to accomplish it. My late husband, Joseph L. Brechner, fought all his adult life for freedom of information for all citizens. This gift will continue his work."

With this gift, the Brechner family’s total contribution to the College of Journalism and Communications reaches more than $3 million, most of it for freedom of information activities. Joseph L. Brechner, who died in 1990, endowed the Brechner Center initially with a gift of $1 million. He was the founder and an owner of WFTV-Channel 9 in Orlando. Mrs. Brechner is president of Brechner Management Company, which owns television and radio stations in Maryland, Kansas and Ohio.

UF’s College of Journalism and Communications has a long history of involvement in freedom of information issues. The Brechner Center is recognized nationally for its leadership in advocating and providing information about access to government meetings and records. The Center is the successor to the Florida Freedom of Information Clearinghouse, established in 1977 by then dean of the college Ralph Lowenstein, with the support of Paul Hogan, then head of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors.

For nearly 10 years, the Clearinghouse operated under the direction of Prof. Jo Anne Smith, a long-time journalism faculty member. Today’s Center staff also includes assistant director Prof. Sandra Chance, who previously practiced media law at Holland & Knight in Tampa and who joined the Brechner Center in 1993.