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Records show governor’s office put up barriers to public records

Text messagesGov. Rick Scott launched Project Sunburst two years ago to give the public easy access to his emails and those of his staff and promised it would become a “unprecedented, transparent window into how state government works.”

He also created a web site to show state employee salaries and held more press conferences flaunting his open government record than any governor in recent history.

But, in practice, the Scott administration has erected barriers to public records, marginalized the use of Sunburst, and interpreted the state’s Sunshine laws in a way that open government advocates say has set the clock back on Florida’s open records tradition.

“They don’t turn over anything unless they get caught,’’ said Steve Andrews, a Tallahassee lawyer whose two-year legal battle over a property dispute with the state produced thousands of documents raising questions about many of the administration’s practices.

Andrews spent 18 months getting copies of text messages that he was repeatedly told by the governor’s staff did not exist. He is suing the governor’s office for violating the state’s public records laws, alleging the records he has received are incomplete and, in some cases, altered.

The governor acknowledged for the first time last week that he uses a private email account but issued a blanket denial that he uses it for public business. He also accused Andrews of harassment. 

“We follow the law,” Scott said told reporters. “This is just an individual that sues the state, tries to cause problems.”

The governor’s office “code of conduct” states that employees should not use personal email accounts “unless such use is necessary upon a reasonable evaluation of the circumstances at hand” and then must forward the public record to his or her state account “or otherwise retain them in accordance with the Department of State retention policy.”

Scott spokesman John Tupps said the governor’s office “now discourages the use of text messaging by employees because text messages are hard to catalog due to the digital nature of the message.”

But thousands of records obtained by Andrews and the Herald/Times indicate that the governor’s staff may have violated that policy when dealing with communication about politically-sensitive information, or when lobbyists and well-positioned Republicans want to communicate with the governor’s top advisers.

For example, when Department of Environmental Secretary Herschel Vinyard met the governor and staff from the governor and attorney general’s office at the governor’s mansion on a Sunday in February 2012, he arranged and discussed it with Scott’s then-deputy chief of staff, Carrie O’Rourke via text messages. Records show they were meeting to discuss, among other things, a potential settlement regarding the BP oil spill. Story here. 


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Al Crespo

You don't have to go to Tallahassee to find a persistent abuse of Florida's Public records Law. www.crespogram.com


Everything with Scott and his Republican allies is smoke and mirrors. They present one facet of a story in the hope that their underhanded dealings will not be noticed. Scott is a master deceiver.

ed jenkins

The citizens have grown extremely tired of those with nothing better to do with their time harassing their political leaders and distracting them from their jobs in ways such as this.

Highly paid Republican operative

I agree with ed. The Boss should be able to do whatever he wants!

Keith Stegath

Edwina is right. She and everyone know that communist and socialist counties thrive because their citizens have easy and open access to their politburo and government records.

After decades of study at liberal think tanks, Edwina has learned that it's only the repressive nations, those who suppress access to information of what their supreme leaders are doing behind closed doors, who will succeed.

North Korea and the USSR are examples of success and failure of the communist nation. NorthK's success lies in there suppression of information, while the collapse of the USSR is the result of not enough suppression.

Unless I'm mistaken, Edwina believes that the problems we're seeing in America are the result of too much information being released by President Obama.

Bill Thompson

The citizens are not surprised that the scumbag Scott would not follow the law, as he has a long history of disregarding the law and doing whatever he feels like doing. This most horrible man runs his office like he's the ceo of his own private company and show complete disdain for everyday Floridians and the Florida Constitution. The scumbag Scott claims to support transparency and integrity in government, yet does not demonstrate it in his evasive behavior.

The citizens are disgusted by this most horrible man and his sleazy behavior and wish to have a governor who is a leader with integrity and transparency in his administration and remind themselves of the great governors Askew, Graham and Chiles who exemplified integrity, transparency, strong leadership and vision. All of these things are severely lacking in the scumbag Scott.

Mike Olesko

When Rick Scotts term finally ends I suspect we're going to start finding out a lot of what has really been going on in the Governors office for the past four years. I also believe a lot of Floridians will regret they ever voted for this man.

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