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Rick Scott’s Sunshine Problem: Missing E-Mails and a Questionable FDLE Probe

| August 25, 2011

The sunshine is purely coincidental. Scott's probnlem with open records isn't.

From the beginning, Gov. Rick Scott has seemed about as comfortable with public records as Rick Perry might at a Brokeback Mountain screening.

Right after taking office, Scott advised his staff to limit use of e-mails because they are public records. To this day, the governor’s website has the following warning at the bottom: “Under Florida law, e-mail addresses are public records. If you do not want your e-mail address released in response to a public records request, do not send electronic mail to this entity. Instead, contact this office by phone or in writing.”

Then Scott increased the price of records requests as if they were premium unleaded gasoline. It prompted veteran political editor and reporter Brian Crowley to inform his readers that it cost more to get 1,100 e-mails from Scott communications director Brian Burgess ($784.84) than it did to get 24,000 pages of Sarah Palin’s e-mails ($725.97) from the state of Alaska.

Well, it turns out that Crowley might have gotten a good deal. Some of Scott’s records can’t be had at any price.

As Michael Bender reported Aug. 18 in the St. Petersburg TimesScott’s transition team deleted entire e-mail accounts shortly after he took office. Destruction of public records is a violation of state law.

florida center for investigative reportingChris Kise was the lawyer and public records adviser for the transition, the man who was supposedly responsible for the gaffe. Bender wrote: “Kise describes it as an oversight, the result, he said, of a chaotic transition run by a largely out-of-state staff still learning Florida law and unfamiliar with the technology that ran the e-mail system.”

That explanation might be more digestible if Kise hadn’t worked in the Attorney General’s office under Charlie Crist and served on Crist’s transition as governor. Kise, the article points out, was recently appointed by Scott to the board of Enterprise Florida, the economic development group that hands out tens of millions of dollars in tax incentives.

The governor’s office has tried to find some of the deleted e-mails in staffers’ personal e-mail accounts. They’ve turned over 69 e-mails that Scott sent and 78 that he received.

“We’ve captured most everything,” Kise said, although the numbers would seem to raise questions about that assertion. Kise said 40 to 50 e-mail accounts were deleted. That would come out to only about one-and-a-half e-mails sent per account for the two-month transition period.

The Times story prompted Scott to ask the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which answers to Scott and his cabinet, to investigate the matter. On Monday, the FDLE opened the investigation — to the chagrin of Scott’s vanquished opponent in the gubernatorial race, Alex Sink. Sink believes there’s a conflict of interest in the FDLE investigating Scott’s office.

Scott’s public records reluctance has prompted complaints from groups such as the Florida Society of News Editors and the Florida First Amendment Foundation. And Scott has responded by meeting more often with newspaper editorial boards and creating a website that supposedly addresses public records issues.

But the site,, is difficult to navigate and critics say it comes across as self-promoting and offers only records that push Scott’s agenda. For example, one of the site’s five quick links is to “Search State Pensions.” It sends the visitor to a listing of all people receiving more than $100,000 a year in pension benefits. Attacking pension benefits for state workers has been one of Scott’s cornerstone issues.

“It’s a good start, but it gives us the information they want us to see,” said Florida First Amendment Foundation president Barbara Petersen, who is a former board member for the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. “The only way to truly hold our government accountable is if they embrace the spirit and the letter of the public records laws.”

–Ralph De La Cruz, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

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12 Responses for “Rick Scott’s Sunshine Problem: Missing E-Mails and a Questionable FDLE Probe”

  1. Charles Ericksen, Jr says:

    I am not defending Gov. Scott, but apparently the author of this article, did not read the same disclaimer on the City of Palm Coast’s website, when attempting to contact the City via email. Line by Line, Word for Word, . “Under Florida law…..Instead ,contact this office by phone, or in writing” Are you suggesting, that any or all other governmental agencies , using this same disclaimer are comparable to the Scott administration? Is it just the State?? I would suggest this is quite common a practice…

  2. palmcoaster says:

    As a voter, tax payer and citizen of the United States of America I do not ask, but I demand an immediate FBI investigation is called into this flagrant Florida State Law violation regarding the erasing, manipulating and disappearance of government official Public Records ordered by Rick Scott. The FDEL should stay out of their bogus search for these deleted documents. I demand that my representatives Mica, Nelson and Trasher call the FBI at once to uncover this shame in order to remove Rick Scott from office for due cause.
    The FBI was called into investigate Brevard County officials and its School Board as well to investigate a former mayor from South Daytona (Ron Clifton) over bravery successfully. Why not now when this violation affects us all, state wide. Alex Sink is correct is an outrageous conflict of interest that the FDLE investigates. FDLE has to keep hands off and FBI take over.,0,1496116.story
    In Ohio also:
    cc: Mica, Nelson and Trasher.

  3. Tom Brown says:

    Scott’s disclaimer makes no sense because written records are just as subject to the Sunshine Law as electronic e-mails. What idiot wrote that? I am not sure how the courts would treat voice mail messages, or if the Sunshine Law requires that voicemails be preserved. Live phone transcripts probably depend on whether there’s legal or illegal telephone recording going on, a la Nixon.

  4. palmcoaster says:

    The problem is not the disclaimer that is the same one probably to all government agencies. The problem is the deletion of public records, written, voice recorded or e-mailed, are public records and forbidden of deletion. Sorry Mr. Ericksen but this Governor is a master of disguise and cover ups otherwise look at what he was let to get away with under Bush regarding Columbia’s Health fraud with Medicare.
    Yes, defending this crook will do you no favors in your campaign trail, now or ever. Make sure you don’t.

  5. notasenior says:

    Placing the blame in “out-of-state” staffers is disingenuous. Most states make it a crime to destroy public records. THere absolutely be an investigation and, if warranted, zealous prosecution.

  6. Layla says:

    Tom Brown: The disclaimer is to warn you that if you are sending an email, your email address will be available to the public. This would not be the case if you chose to call or write a letter.

  7. Layla says:

    Palmcoaster: I will second what Mr. Ericksen said and he wasn’t defending Gov. Scott.

    It is a common practice and it usually isn’t intentional. However, even deleted emails can usually be recovered. Most politicians and professionals never put ANYTHING in email they wouldn’t want the public to read. If common sense no longer exists in day to day life, it is still alive and well in this situation. You just don’t put it in an email.

    If Kise worked under the Crist administration, this does not surprise me, sadly.

  8. Val Jaffee says:

    Something tells me Rick Perry’s real discomfort will be too hard to suppress.

    …“Kise describes it as an oversight, the result, he said, of a chaotic transition run by a largely out-of-state staff still learning Florida law and unfamiliar with the technology that ran the e-mail system.”…

    Interesting. Well they may have been deleted but they are not entirely lost. The CIA have those e-mails so the gov should ask this agency to provide copies. Where do these out of state staff hail from? We should find out. Let’s see if their state/states have similar type laws so we may verify this excuse.

    As for the technology issue, is Mr Kise saying that performing the DELETE or SAVE function results in the opposite function being performed depending on the software? I should get that software, seems like it would be fun to play with.

  9. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    A couple of issues, a) the FBI can’t investigate alleged violation of state law, nor should they. b) During the transition, the Governor was not a state employee, nor were any of members of his transition team. I would venture to guess the sunshine law is not applicable until the Governor is sworn in and actually becomes a state employee. and c) as previously stated, the disclaimer assigned to Scott, is not “Scott’s disclaimer”, it is the same disclaimer that has been used for many years by all local and state agencies in Florida. I worked in county Government many years ago and we had the exact same disclaimer (word for word) on our site at that time long before anyone knew who Scott was, perhaps if the author was more interested in reporting a story than supporting an agenda, that bit of context would have been included in the story.

  10. Val Jaffee says:

    @Johnny Taxpayer

    The Governor’s transition team deleted email accounts from gov’t computers which contained public records. These are not personal computers so they are not subject to the whims of their owners/users.

  11. Jojo says:

    Irregardless, this man comes with a lot of baggage. This is a perfect example of electing someone, someone with a lot of money and who spent a lot of money to get elected Governor of Florida. I suspect a lot of people voted for him not knowing the difference of Rick Scott’s background or intentions. This man refused to answer questions during his run for Governor of Florida and literally shut down the press asking questions of Columbia HCA and that’s sad. I voted for Alex Sink all the way. Do we dare make the same mistake to elect this man Governor a second time? Not me!

  12. palmcoaster says:

    Jojo now he is spending a fortune paid by us flying and cruising around to mend his relation with the press.
    Recall provision is what we need in our Florida constitution. To boot him back into his Medicare fraud businesses and see if this time he can avoid jail. This is the way many wealthy have made their monies for the past 12 years in this country….not like us, the middle class and workers, the good honest way by working our butts off and earning it!

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