Scott kicks open his inboxby John Kennedy | May 3rd, 2012
Gov. Rick Scott kicked open his inbox Thursday, unveiling an effort dubbed Project Sunburst that will give the public access to emails he and 11 top staffers send and receive — within seven days of being written.
Scott, whose history with email includes deleting communications made by the incoming governor and members of his transition team, hailed the new initiative as unprecedented. It will give Floridians and the media a window into how state government works, he said.
“I invite Floridians to view our emails,” Scott said, adding, “you can learn how we’re making Florida the best state for businesses to grow and create jobs.”
E-mails are available with search capabilities on the Governor’s website at www.flgov.com/sunburst through Microsoft Outlook Web Access. Individuals can access the Sunburst system by using the user name and password sunburst. Scott also emphasized that public records requests to his office will still be honored.
“It’s a good thing,” said Barbara Petersen, director of the First Amendment Foundation, the advocacy and research organization backed by many of the state’s news organizations. “It’s also a good example for other agencies to follow, and for local governments.”
Petersen recalled amid a generally icy relationship between Scott and the media, she made public records requests last year of five of the governor’s top staffers. It took 11 months and $5,000 in copying and staff costs paid by the foundation to make public several months of governor’s office email.
The loss of email from the period between Scott’s election and his inauguration is still being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the governor said Thursday. He brought the agency in to review the matter, which was blamed on a private company that hosted the email accounts for Scott’s campaign and transition office.
Legislation was approved this year (HB 1305) that requires an incoming governor, lieutenant governor, and Cabinet members to preserve email between their election and when they officially take office. Scott signed the measure, which supporters said closed a “loophole” in the state’s public records laws.
With the new system, e-mails are to be posted within seven days of receipt or creation unless permission has been granted for an extended deadline. The goal, however, is for e-mails to be available within 24 hours, under Project Sunburst.
Scott staffers writing the email, or receiving them from others, will determine whether the communication is a public record and make it subject to disclosure at the end of every day. Email considered to include sensitive material that should be redacted would be sent to Scott’s legal office and Office of Open Government for further review, under the new system.
Governor’s office staff don’t always use the state email server — and exchanges over other accounts would not be captured under Project Sunburst. Telephone conversations, text messages and direct messages also can still be conducted without the public looking in.
Petersen said that while Scott’s step is a good one for expanding public access, it could still go further.
”The devil will be in the details,” she said.