Gov. Rick Scott said he learned within the past two weeks that transition e-mail accounts could not be recovered from a private computer server, potentially erasing records that state law requires to be kept.
But documents show that Rackspace, the Texas-based company that provided e-mail, notified the transition team as early as March 14 that no records existed from 44 of 47 accounts that had been closed, including Scott's.
"I sincerely apologize for any inconveniences this causes you and your company and would like to refer you to Rackspace Archiving in the event a future incident should present itself where you need to access email correspondence sent/received by a user who had deleted emails or the mailbox has been removed," Rackspace customer service technician Leonard Vega Merino wrote at the time.
Merino's e-mail was to Luke Baker, a staffer with Harris Media, the online communications company that set up the Rackspace accounts. Baker had told the company: "If we do not recover them, then it is a potential violation of Florida state law."
Chris Kise, a Tallahassee attorney who advised Scott's transition, was given Merino e-mail on March 30. Kise then contacted Rackspace but received this reply on April 8 from company attorney Steve Priolo: "Our technicians verified that there is no data left on the hosted environment for the other mail boxes as they were disabled longer than 14 days ago."
According to documents provided to the Times/Herald, Kise continued to contact the company into June. Kise said his attempts into mid July, when he concluded he could not retrieve documents from the company. Kise said he notified the Scott administration of his findings in early August.
Scott called for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate on Aug. 19, after the Times/Herald reported the accounts had been deleted. Democrats have complained that FDLE is not the proper agency to investigate.
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In an interview with the Times/Herald, Scott did not say when he learned there might be a problem retrieving records.
"I know they've been working on making sure they can find them," Scott said.
"I'd like everything to be done in a day," he added later in the interview with theTimes/Herald. "It never happens that way."
Scott said he learned recently that the e-mails could be gone.
"In the last week-and-a-half, two weeks I guess they've pretty much come to the conclusion that they couldn't get the ones off, I guess, Rackspace - whatever that is," he said.
Asked why he waited until recently to call for investigation, Scott said: "It makes sense. When they finally came to the conclusion that they were having a hard... You know, I want to find out why it happened because I want to make sure we do the right things."
According to documents provided to the newspapers, Harris Media staffer Amy Brownwrote an e-mail to the transition team on Jan. 26 that all accounts would be closed by the end of the month.
"You will no longer have access to your email inboxes, contacts and messages at that time," Brown wrote. "Please take time the rest of the week and weekend to copy any of the data you will need from those accounts."
Kise has said the transition staff did not understand that message meant information would be deleted. Brown declined to comment.
State law carries a maximum $500 fine for violations of public records law and more serious penalties, including impeachment, for any official who "knowingly violates" the statutes.
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Kise has continued to provide new records from the transition since the initialTimes/Herald report.
On Wednesday, Kise released a pair of letters from former Gov. Jeb Bush offering detailed advice for Scott's first term.
Late Friday, the Times/Herald was given more than 700 pages of e-mails from Susie Wiles, Scott's campaign manager and legislative liaison during the transition.
Among the details in those e-mails is a schedule that shows shortly after the election Scott had a private dinner with former President George W. Bush at the home ofGary Morse, developer of The Villages, a mega-retirement community and a high concentration of active Republican voters.
Other details from the records:
• Former Gov. Bush e-mailed some on the transition team saying it was "very disappointing" that they had let Mavis Knight go from the governor's appointments office.
"I don't quite understand this decision," Bush wrote. "The transition team is letting dedicated, admired people [go] without hiring anyone? Mavis has served four governors well."
A day later, Bush expressed regret about two more dismissals in the office: Freda King and Marsha Smith. "All three are African Americans, non-political and good workers. Freda just lost her son who died in Afghanistan."
• The other Bush e-mail in the stack is about the inauguration celebration: "I canceled my trip so I can attend the swearing in. Is there someone that I can advise of this?"
Spencer Geissinger returned the message to let Bush know that FDLE would provide his "ground transportation."
• After Scott said he would donate his goveror's salary to charity, Wiles e-mailed transition director Enu Mainigi: "As discussed, that 'charity' is the governor's staff salary pool. Is that still the plan? If so, need to tell Rick."
• Wiles did trade e-mails with House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, but her e-mails show she was intimately involved in placing lower-level campaign and transition staff throughout state government.
We reported in January this was happening.
What we didn't know was all the staffing suggestions she was getting from folks like U.S. Sugar lobbyist Robert Coker, Jacksonville-area tea party organizer Billie Tuckerand Alia Faraj-Johnson of Ron Sachs Communication who pushed to place one of the company's employees inside the governor's press shop.
• Republican Party fundraiser John Rood, a former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas, repeatedly impressed upon Wiles the importance of reaching out to the Board of Governors and State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan about influencing the board's appointments for university trustees.
"Hope someone gets involved in process and we don't put in democrats not loyal to governor," Rood wrote.
"I would ask bog chancellor to delay application deadline for a month which would give you time to understand your role (if any) and also sends a signal we are in charge and tests loyalty of chancellor brogan (i think he is very loyal)," Rood added.
Wiles replied that she had a meeting the next day with then-Gov. Charlie Crist chief of staff Shane Strum "to ask specifically that Gov. Crist stop appointing - or at least collaborate with us."
"Don't know he will oblige but I intend to press the issue. Stay tuned."
Crist did not stop making appointments and Scott eventually rescinded everything that had not received Senate confirmation.
• A couple of ideas that didn't make out of the transition: creating a faith-based office in the governor's office and abolishing the Florida Sports Foundation.
• We've described the chaos inside Scott's transition several different ways and here's another:
Fritz Brogan, Mainigi's assistant, e-mailed Wiles and policy adviser Mary Anne Carterasking why Jordan Karem, who had worked on Scott's primary campaign, was on the payroll. "Enu wanted to know where that came from," he wrote.
"We discussed him at dinner at China Grill," Carter replied.
Mainigi then wrote: "I don't recall discussing him. We need to discuss b/c rick can't stand him."
Wiles responded to Carter: "OMG - she okayed it at dinner."
• We've also known it took Scott's team a while to down-shift from campaign speed. In another example, here's how the first draft of Scott's Thanksgiving Day message started:
"With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the millions of Floridians who elected me as the state's next governor."
• The meeting before the meeting: Carter, who became Scott's most influential staffer during his first six months in office, wanted to sit down with budget adviser Donna Arduin and the Office of Policy & Budget staff before their first meeting with Scott.
"Are we not better off going through it without RLS and then determine what decisions need to be made? If there are going to be areas where policy and politics collide, I think it's best to know ahead of time and not have him involved in initial conversations."
Arduin, a former OPB director for Bush, wasn't having it. "You will see how budget meetings go by observing tomorrow," Arduin wrote. "The meetings are the governor meeting with his opb staff and making decisions."
Arduin then wrote to Wiles: "Keep the governor out of his budget decisions because we don't want him involved in political decisions....really??!!!"
"This process is beyond amazing to me," Wiles replied.
• The transition process was also questioned by Pam Pfeifer, a policy adviser who wrote to Wiles that members of the military affairs transition team had been told after they booked airfare and hotel rooms for a meeting at transition headquarters in Fort Lauderdale that they would not be reimbursed.
"I am absolutely mortified at how our transition members are being treated in a variety of ways," Pfeifer wrote.
• Wiles wrote to Brogan halfway through the transition regarding a hire she made for deputy chief of staff at the Department of Business & Professional Regulation.
"Enu called me this evening and informed me I overstepped my authority," Wiles wrote. "I made a mistake - didn't realize she wanted to interview all staff even at smaller agencies."
• Wiles wasn't a fan of Hayden Dempsey's request for a "special counsel" title instead of legislative affairs director.
"If Hayden gets off on being called special counsel and Enu agreed, that's fine," Wiles wrote. "There is nothing about special counsel that suggests leg affairs ... we will be laughed at - in my opinion, for what it's worth.