Florida Politics by Michael Moline
May 18, 2020
Lawton Chiles was missing. It was April 1992, and Bill Sadowski, head of the state’s growth management agency, had gone down in a state-owned plane in St. Augustine and been killed along with the pilot, but nobody knew where to find the governor right away.
Chiles, the last Democrat to sit in Florida’s governor’s mansion, had a habit of slipping away from his Florida Department of Law Enforcement detail to hunt turkeys, veteran Tallahassee reporter Lucy Morgan, now retired, told the Phoenix recently.
That’s what he’d done the day Sadowski died.
“No one knew where Chiles was,” Morgan, the long-serving capital bureau chief of the old St. Petersburg Times (since renamed the Tampa Bay Times) and now a columnist for the Phoenix, recounted. “It was well after noon before they found him — he had been hunting — spring gobblers I think.”
It matters that the public knows what its governors are up to. So much so that Florida governors’ daily administrative schedules are official public records they are obliged to share with the press and public.
Under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, though, this important document has been reaching reporters’ hands well after most of the meetings and events it documents are over and done with. Often, well into the evening.
“Historically, the governors of Florida routinely and regularly provided access to their calendars in sufficient time so that, if you know the governor’s going to be in Jacksonville tomorrow based on his calendar, and it’s a story you want to cover or I as a citizen want to be sure I’m there, then we have sufficient time to get there,” said Barbara Petersen, who recently retired after 25 years as president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation.
“It’s inconvenient, certainly,” when a governor releases his calendar late in the day or into the evening, she said.
“And I think it’s not particularly good public policy. Because the governor works on our behalf. We have a right to know what he’s doing and when he’s doing it. So, yes, he should be giving us his calendar in a timely manner.”
The practice reached its nadir, perhaps, on April 28, when DeSantis met with President Trump in the White House to discuss the governor’s strategy on COVID-19 just days before he would loosen restrictions on social distancing for businesses, hospitals, and other gathering places.