After a 10-month investigation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has cleared the governor's office of any wrongdoing in the disappearance of transition emails from the public record.
The Herald/Times first discovered in August 2011 that many of the emails had been erased from a server run by the communications company that worked for the governor's transition team during the two-month period between the time the governor was elected and took office. Scott then asked the agency that reports to the governor and Cabinet to investigate and then was forced to launch a massive retrieval effort to recover many of the documents.
At the time, former CFO Alex Sink, who lost to Scott in the 2010 race for governor, criticized the decision to use FDLE instead of an independent investigator. FDLE chief Gerald Bailey reports to Scott and the Florida Cabinet, all of whom are Republicans.
The governor's office said Wednesday that it recovered "more than 4.5 gigabytes of electronic data representing more than 33,000 pages of transition emails and documents" and turned them over to FDLE.
The episode also contributed to a distrust of the governor's transition team and top staff among the public and media in Florida and led to what the governor's office described as "a massive number of public records requests for Scott Transition Team documents."
In response to the reaction, the governor directed FDLE "to use electronic forensic search methods to recover lost emails and further required every member of the transition team, including volunteers, to turn over all documents related to transition business,'' the governor's statement said.
The governor's office said that because of its efforts to cast "the widest possible net and using cutting-edge technology," it believes it has produced more gubernatorial transition documents than any other governor in Florida history. It has posted the collection of transition documents in searchable format on the Sunburst web site.
To prevent future newcomers to the office from making the same mistake, the Legislature passed a law this year spelling out that transition documents are considered a public record and must be preserved under Florida public records laws.
Here's the press release:
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigation requested by Governor Rick Scott to recover lost Scott Transition Team documents is over, clearing Governor Scott and his transition team. FDLE found nothing criminal related to the loss of data from a transition email server, and the Scott Administration cooperated fully with FDLE and went to exhaustive lengths to help recover more than 33,000 pages of emails and transition documents once thought to be lost.
In all, more than 4.5 gigabytes of electronic data representing more than 33,000 pages of transition emails and documents were recovered and turned over to FDLE.
In addition to securing the email messages of senior staff, the Governor also directed the transition team and FDLE to use electronic forensic search methods to recover lost emails and further required every member of the transition team, including volunteers, to turn over all documents related to transition business. By casting the widest possible net and using cutting-edge technology, the transition team, in cooperation with FDLE investigators, ultimately produced the most comprehensive collection of gubernatorial transition documents in Florida history.
Every transition document produced as part of the investigation will be posted on the Governor’s groundbreaking “Sunburst” online public records access system beginning later today, and an electronic copy of the entire collection has already been provided to Florida’s First Amendment Foundation for easier dissemination to members of the media.
The files can be accessed at www.flgov.com/sunburst. Prior to Governor Scott’s request for FDLE to investigate the potential loss of data, no Florida governor or any Florida cabinet official had ever been asked for such a comprehensive number of transition documents under Florida’s Sunshine laws.
As a result of the massive number of public records requests for Scott Transition Team documents, and as part of his ongoing commitment to lead the most transparent administration in Florida’s history, one of Governor Scott’s signature initiatives during this past legislative session was to clarify the legal requirements under Florida’s Sunshine laws for future transitions teams to ensure documents are retained in a systematic and orderly manner for review by the press and public. Governor Scott signed the bill, HB 1305, into law on March 24th, 2012. It was unanimously passed the Legislature.