Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Citing security, Scott cloaks travel details

By using his personal jet for public business, Florida Gov. Rick Scott can shield his itinerary from websites that track flights, and when his plane lands, he uses a public records exemption to tighten the cloak of secrecy.

Wherever Scott goes, he's shadowed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents. In citing a records exemption that protects FDLE "surveillance techniques" from publication, he withholds the members of his traveling party, restaurants and homes he visits, and people at meetings — all in the name of security.

To a much greater degree than the past three governors, Scott, former chief executive of the nation's largest private hospital chain, conceals information from the public about his travel.

Govs. Charlie Crist, Jeb Bush and Lawton Chiles routinely released those details. Even Scott did until last year, when he regularly began using the surveillance exemption.

Chiles, who served from 1991-98, released daily schedules that listed the phone numbers and email addresses of flying passengers and tail numbers of private planes he used on days when he mixed state business with campaigning.

Bush often provided full details of meetings, including names of participants, as did Crist, who provided names of general aviation airports the state used and names of participants in private meetings.

In contrast, on a day in October when Scott traveled from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to Kissimmee, most of the details were withheld, including how long it took to get from Miami to Fort Lauderdale. No participants were listed, the address of his hotel was blacked out and a disclaimer at the bottom of each page read: "The information may be confidential because it bears upon the governor's security."

Scott's top lawyer, general counsel Pete Antonacci, said the decision to withhold travel information followed "lots of interaction" between his office and the FDLE, which assigns a special protective detail to handle the governor's security.

Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation, a statewide watchdog group supported by Florida newspapers, said the exemption Scott and FDLE are using should not apply to his travel schedule. "I think they're stretching the law in an unacceptable manner to reach the agency's desired result," Petersen said.

Scott promised to sell both state planes if elected, and he did. But because Scott flies in his own Cessna Citation jet, his office says that records of use and maintenance are not public. His top aide, chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth, said security in general has become a bigger concern since 9/11.

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