The spotlight turns on Tallahassee today as Gov. Rick Scott is sworn in for a second term, and there will be optimistic speeches and pronouncements about the Sunshine State's bright future. Yet the governor and the Legislature have driven state government into the darkness with their disregard for public records and brazen attempts to keep public business secret. If this is a day of fresh starts, then Scott and legislative leaders should pledge to honor Florida's commitment to government in the sunshine instead of fighting it at every turn.
Scott moved from the corporate world to the Governor's Mansion four years ago, and he brought his penchant for privacy and distrust of the media with him. The result has been the most secretive governor since the late Gov. Reubin Askew championed Florida's modern public records and open meetings laws more than four decades ago. Scott's business approach to holding information close erodes public trust in government, and it invites corruption from those who seek to take advantage of working in the shadows.
The erosion of openness since Scott took office is clear. As Mary Ellen Klas of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reported Sunday, the governor's travel record has less detail than those routinely released by any of his modern predecessors, and his calendar is heavily edited before it is publicly released. His lawyers have denied in court documents that public records were available or even existed, which proved to be wrong. Then they made a novel argument that the governor's office does not search for public records on employees' private cellphones and email accounts — and that such records from former employees had to be requested directly from those ex-workers. That is at odds with the public records law and effectively blocks access to public records by transferring accountability from the government to a private individual. Continue>>>