How convenient. Gov. Rick Scott waited until three weeks after he narrowly won re-election to respond to a public records request for emails involving public business in his private email account. The Associated Press only waited for three months for a response, and the emails show the governor violated the spirit of public records laws by trying to keep secret messages about budget vetoes and other state issues. The least transparent governor in memory should come out of the shadows in his second term and work in the sunshine.
It is not a violation of public records law for public officials to discuss public business using private email accounts. But those emails are public records, and it is a violation to fail to provide them in a reasonable amount of time in response to a public records request. Scott says he has closed this email account, but three months should not meet anyone’s definition of a reasonable amount of time.
Most of the governor’s newly released emails are from 2011 and 2012. That’s interesting, because Scott was praised in 2012 for creating a new program to promptly give the public access to his emails and those of his top advisers. Sunburst turned out to be a bust, as few emails were posted to the site and many of those that were posted were not timely.
Floridians should have learned in 2012 that Scott’s chief of staff at the time sent an email urging the governor to veto the creation of Florida Polytechnic University in Polk County. Steve MacNamara told his boss he “inherited an awful higher ed system” that was neglected by former Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. “We are rewarding indifference and bad behavior,” MacNamara wrote to Scott, “and it sickens me.”
The governor didn’t listen. Scott signed into law the creation of an expensive, unneeded university to satisfy a powerful state senator when he knew better. No wonder he went to great effort to keep his emails from the public even as he claimed to be setting a new standard for openness.