It’s easy to spend money — when it belongs to someone else. Just ask Gov. Rick Scott.
The governor recently agreed to hand over $700,000 from taxpayers to settle seven lawsuits alleging that he and his staff violated Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law by creating private email accounts to skirt public-record requirements. Unfortunately, this resolution was not unprecedented for Scott.
In June, the governor and the Florida Cabinet used $55,000 from taxpayers to settle another public-records lawsuit. This one alleged Scott and the Cabinet illegally forced out the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement without a public discussion or a vote by delegating the job to staff in closed-door meetings. The Sentinel was among several news organizations that joined a St. Petersburg lawyer, Matthew Weidner, in filing suit.
The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau reported that Scott’s office has not met requests to disclose how much the state spent defending the governor in either case. The state’s costs before the June settlement topped $225,000, but the final bill will almost certainly go higher.
The running total for taxpayers from these two cases — $980,000 — won’t break the state budget, but it would be enough to hire 16 public school teachers at their current average salary and benefits. And it’s ironic that a self-styled taxpayers’ advocate would use public dollars to get out of his own legal jams. This is the same governor who cited his duty to taxpayers in June when vetoing legislatively approved funding for charitable health clinics and programs for children with disabilities.
But as Weidner and other critics have pointed out, the injury from the governor’s indifference to government in the sunshine goes beyond the hit on taxpayers’ wallets.
Open government is a constitutional right for Floridians. It’s grounded in the cherished American principle that the government answers to the public — not vice versa. Scott, a former CEO for a private hospital chain, seems to be struggling with this concept, almost five years after he entered public life.
This year, while using his veto pen to strike scores of line items from the state budget, Scott didn’t nix even one of 20 bills passed by the Legislature to make or renew exceptions to open-meetings or open-records requirements.
When Scott and other leaders flout Florida’s sunshine laws, citizens are denied their right to know how decisions affecting them are made. They are cheated of the chance to have input on those policies.
Scott spent more than $70 million from his own fortune to get elected governor, so he could easily afford to pay the costs of his own legal settlements. If he did, it would buttress his credibility as an advocate for taxpayers. And it would reflect his appropriate contrition for mocking Florida’s proud tradition of open government.
Original article here.