I’m flattered that Gov. Rick Scott read my stories, but hurt that he tried to keep it a secret for so long.
Scott has for months been fighting a legal battle over public records with Tallahassee attorney Steven Andrews. Andrews contends that Scott and members of his administration used private email to hide communications related to a dispute over land near the governor’s mansion.
Scott had claimed that he never used his personal email for official business without forwarding the message to his public account. That charade ended last month when his attorneys released nearly 200 pages of email messages from the governor’s Gmail account.
The messages deal with a variety of very public matters, such as the state budget, vetoes of bills and the state university system. It’s the last item that piqued my interest, given that I covered the University of Florida for The Sun before becoming editorial page editor last year.
Lo and behold, excerpts from my stories on UF were among the email trove. Most of them came from Alan Levine, a health care executive who was a UF trustee at the time and is now on the Florida Board of Governors.
In one message forwarded to Scott, Levine writes that he and another trustee appointed by Scott, Michael Heekin, were “pretty active voices for the Governor’s objective of challenging the way things are done.”
He cited three of my stories in which he was quoted. In them, Levine pushed for more aggressive budget cuts at UF, echoed Scott’s call for universities to have a greater focus on workforce needs, and defended the governor’s use of a higher-education plan borrowed from Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Scott was pleased.
“Alan and Mike are thoughtful,” he wrote. “This is fun.”
In another message, Levine writes about a call that I made to him asking about UF Board of Trustees Chairman Carlos Alfonso being forced off the board by the governor.
Levine informs Scott’s chief of staff at the time that he said if “any board member votes for tuition increases without having a definitive plan for how it translates into jobs, they haven’t been listening.”
In another message to Scott’s then-chief of staff, Heekin defends his vote for a tuition increase at his first board meeting.
“Knowing what I know now, I doubted I would have voted for that increase … But I respect and understand if Governor Scott wants his trustees to have a solid record of opposing all tuition increases absent compelling reasons, and would like to replace me for my vote.”
Eleven days later, Heekin and Levine were both reappointed to the board.
The email messages don’t have any earth-shattering revelations, but they show the extent of Scott’s involvement in the state university system.
There is nothing wrong with that, but there certainly is something wrong with circumventing public records law when you do it.
Scott has claimed his administration is committed to transparency. Andrews’ lawsuit has shown that the administration has instead flouted public records law on a regular basis.
If one of Scott’s appointees wants to email this column to the governor, that would be great. Just send it to his public account and spare someone from having to sue for the public to see it.