The Project Sunburst open-records initiative unveiled by Gov. Rick Scott four years ago has been a huge disappointment for people who think the public is better served by a more transparent government.
As the Tribune’s James L. Rosica reports, government watchdog groups give the initiative failing grades, despite Scott’s sunny pronouncements when he rolled it out to much fanfare.
“It was all baloney,” says Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit supported in part by media interests.
The website was supposed to provide a window into the official email correspondence of Scott and top government officials entrusted with conducting the public’s business.
It certainly sounded like a good idea. As official correspondence became almost entirely digital over the past couple of decades, the access to that communication became increasingly more difficult.
Scott promised Project Sunburst would display his official government emails within seven days of being sent and received, and do the same with the digital correspondence of top aides and department heads.
By logging onto the www.flgov.com/sunburst, the public could read along as their tax dollars were spent and government policies and projects were discussed.
But it never really happened. The site turned into a complaint repository for people with a beef against the government. Mundane correspondence and meeting schedules were posted.
Petersen says Scott doesn’t even use the account to send emails anymore.
This abandonment of a promise for transparency follows a disappointing pattern of conducting the people’s business in the shadows.
Just recently, the governor and the state’s three cabinet members, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, settled a lawsuit brought by news organizations over the secretive way the former head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was forced from his job. The lawsuit contended Scott and the cabinet members failed to follow the state’s open-meetings laws.
And The Associated Press found that Scott had for years used a private email account to conduct business having to do with the state budget and legislative vetoes. His office says he no longer uses the account.
They also point out that Scott was the first to put entire employee email accounts online. But it appears the prospect of having their correspondence open to the public has kept the employees from writing anything of substance that might provide insights into how decisions are being made.
Rather than inspire transparency, Project Sunburst appears to have driven employees to find ways to communicate the important stuff without using email.
Scott is certainly not the first public official to fail to deliver on a promise of transparency. As Petersen points out, each governor over the years has conducted business in varying degrees of openness.
But she says Scott is going to some lengths to be secretive. “It seems like Scott bends over backwards to stop you from getting information.”
It really gets to the trust people have in their government. By this measure, at least, that trust is lacking.
Original article here.