Back in May, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) announced a bold initiative: his and other non-exempt executive staff emails would be made available to the public in an online database. A few months later, though, the effort has been less transparent window and more rose-colored glasses.
According to The Tampa Bay Times, the emails made public until now were not the ones in Scott’s official state account. Instead, the emails put online “were from a different account used almost exclusively by conservative supporters.” The email address that until now fed the online database, RLS@eog.myflorida.com, appears as Scott’s email on Florida Tea Party websites.
As a result, the database contained a very high percentage of emails favorable to Scott’s administration. And the Times reports that the impression given by those emails has had an impact:
Reporters — acting at the urging of Scott — have regularly relied on the Sunburst database rather than filing a public records request for official emails. Several reporters have used those emails to gauge public sentiment on a host of issues, and the informal reviews have skewed results in favor of the governor.
After the newspaper started asking questions on Monday, Scott’s office acknowledged the two different email accounts, and said that it would phase out RLS@eog.myflorida.com and add emails sent to the official account to the database.
In response to questions from TPM, Scott Press Secretary Lane Wright sent a prepared Q & A stating that the governor’s IT department “has already merged the addresses so that the Governor’s official account used for state business and the account used for citizen services are one and the same.” Emails to the official account could take a day or two to become visible in the Sunburst system. The statement also offered an explanation for the database’s initial set up:
Due to the high volume of public comments received by the Governor’s office, that practice was implemented in a good faith effort to protect citizens who may not be aware of Florida’s sunshine laws from inadvertently publishing their private information on the Sunburst email transparency system. However, the official state accounts are now being merged with the email addresses used by the official website to avoid confusion and to ensure all non-private information is published via the Sunburst system. Now, any emails that do contain private information that is exempt from disclosure will be manually removed prior to publication on Sunburst. Answer #1, above, explains the new process in further detail.
Read the whole story here.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com