JACKSONVILLE – When it comes to providing access to public records, one rule should serve as a reliable guide for officials throughout Florida.
Always be open and transparent. And never be too cute and clever for your own good.
That should be easy enough to remember and follow.
But Gov. Rick Scott isn’t grasping this simple advice.
That’s the obvious conclusion to reach regarding Gov. Scott’s attempt to avoid providing reasonable access to text and email messages by administration employees, who often use personal phone and computer accounts to conduct public business.
Scott’s administration wants to make it much harder for such employee correspondence to become available to the media or interested citizens.
It is now seeking a legal ruling that would force anyone asking for text and email records of current or former staffers to directly request them from those individuals rather than through the administration.
This is a cynical ploy designed to put up unreasonable obstacles for anyone seeking public records related to countless issues affecting Florida’s citizens.
It also violates the spirit of Florida’s Sunshine Laws, which are among the most progressive and visionary in the country.
THROWING UP ROADBLOCKS
There’s plenty that’s unsavory about the Scott administration’s attempted end-run around providing acceptable access to employee text and email messages.
Scott’s proposal could force record-seekers to have no choice but to file lawsuits against state workers who decide not to provide requested information.
That could lead to media and citizens having to spend massive legal fees simply to get access to public records they should be able to easily obtain.
In some cases, it might even discourage some citizens and media outlets from following through on valid requests for records and information.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the exact effect that Scott’s administration wants this maneuver to produce.
Its aim is to frustrate Florida’s citizens and media outlets from acquiring information about state business from employees who are supposed to be working for the people.
UNFAIR TO EMPLOYEES
It’s also unseemly that the Scott administration’s proposal, if successful, would put an undue and unfair burden on state employees.
Many state workers might find themselves having to choose between openly cooperating with requests to provide records (which could annoy bosses who would prefer their subordinates block and stall) or being uncooperative (which could lead to them being held personally liable if sued by a citizen or media outlet).
It’s cowardly for the Scott administration to use state employees — most of whom are conscientious public servants just trying to do their jobs — as glorified human shields, propped up to keep the administration from being held directly accountable for handling requests for records.
The state employees deserve much better than this from Gov. Scott, just like the citizens and media outlets seeking unfettered access to public records.
Scott should realize as much. He should know better.
The governor should personally put an end to the administration’s effort to push through this outrageous, unnecessarily hostile approach to providing public records.
The Scott administration is being way too cute — and way too clever — for its own good.