Once upon a time we were covering a local board when they decided to hold ongoing “informal breakfast meetings” at 7 a.m.
We asked why they decided to do anything that early in the morning and there was a lot of hemming and hawing. Eventually, we discovered that the board had gone on a retreat and an “expert” had advised them that they could discuss any important topic they wanted without the worry and hassle of public scrutiny or nosy reporters if they just held these meetings so early in the morning that no one would bother to show up.
When representatives of The News Herald showed up, and continued to show up, the informal breakfast meetings ended.
Unfortunately, that’s the way it often goes with elected officials and bureaucrats. Many of them look for ways to avoid Florida’s Sunshine laws. The breakfast meeting barely scratches the surface of the misguided attempts and clear violations we’ve seen over the years but we will move on lest this become a rant.
Ultimately, the people of Florida overwhelmingly support Florida’s Sunshine Laws, the public has a right to know what their elected officials are doing and that every part of the decision making process should be visible. A board should not meet in secret, discuss the pros and cons of an issue amongst themselves and then hold an “open” meeting where they have a show vote on an issue that was previously decided.
This principle applies to much more than meetings and should include records, letters and emails to politicians and public agencies.
In case you missed it, and you probably did since it happened just as many of use were preparing for Thanksgiving, Gov. Rick Scott finally turned over a batch of emails to the Associated Press from his private email account.
Under Florida’s public records law there is nothing illegal about a politician having a private email account. In fact, it makes perfect sense for any politician to do their best to keep the church of their home lives and their state business separate.
Scott’s private email wasn’t a secret and he promised that if ever he got an email dealing with state business he would forward it to his public email accounts.
However, the former CEO was, apparently, befuddled by the forward button because a review of the emails Scott did release showed that he failed to send at least some of the messages to the public account. Those messages include exchanges between Scott and his former chief of staff Steve MacNamara about Florida’s University System and an exchange with a supporter that serves on the board of trustees at the University of Florida.
Scott spokesman John Tupps said that “after a thorough review of this old email account, there were occasions the governor failed to forward messages.”
He added that the situation is now resolved.
“This email account is closed and the personal email account the governor uses now has not been given out beyond his family,” Tupps said.
We hope that’s true and we also hope Scott has figured out how to use the forward button. One mistake in this area is just that, a mistake. A second one is a sign that Florida’s governor is choosing to violate one of this state’s most important laws.