TALLAHASSEE — For a second time, e-mails to and from Florida Gov. Rick Scott have been deleted in possible violation of state law.
Scott's team acknowledged in August, months after a Times/Herald request for transition records, that dozens of e-mail accounts had been deleted from a private computer server where the documents were stored.
Now, Scott's office has confirmed e-mails stored on Scott's iPad were deleted when a Governor's Office staffer in charge of technology tried to print the documents. Both incidents have been described as accidental.
Meanwhile, Scott's office has not fulfilled requests for other public records from the transition, including one for documents that would show whether Scott crafted his legislative agenda with the same type of focus group testing that shaped his $80 million campaign for governor.
Scott and his administration have struggled to square their experiences in the private sector, where information is closely protected, with state law that requires nearly any document related to state business to be available for public inspection.
After the Times/Herald first reported on missing e-mails last month, Scott ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate why the e-mails were lost and whether any could be recovered.
Scott cited the FDLE investigation when he declined to comment on news that e-mails were also deleted from his iPad. "I'm waiting for the investigation to get finished," Scott said.
Tallahassee lawyer Chris Kise, who has coordinated transition records requests for Scott, told the Times/Herald during a meeting last month that no e-mails could be stored on an iPad, which Kise said he personally verified in a conversation with an Apple store employee.
Florida First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said she was told during a meeting last week with Scott's legal team that e-mails from the iPad were deleted.
"Maybe it is an unfortunate coincidence this happened twice, but that doesn't negate the fact that there is a duty under the law to retain public records," Petersen said.
Violations of public records law carry a maximum $500 fine and more serious penalties, including impeachment, for any official who "knowingly violates" the statutes.
Despite these issues, Scott and his team have forged new ground in making public records available. His staff created and regularly maintains a useful database of salaries for workers in his office and other executive agencies.
After First Amendment advocates and media complained about new fees to duplicate public records, Scott's communications director, Brian Burgess, reduced the costs. Scott's chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, has directed workers in the Governor's Office to use state e-mail addresses instead of private accounts that make it more difficult to comply with record requests.
But when the Times/Herald asked Kise in August to provide any public records related to focus groups, Kise suggested the newspapers directly contact Tony Fabrizio, Scott's Miami-based pollster and one of the masterminds behind Scott's campaign for governor.
Focus groups are a marketing tool to test how the public will respond to policies, products or advertisements and how different descriptions can make those items more or less agreeable.
Scott's campaign for governor relied heavily on focus groups and polling to shape the scripts of more than a dozen TV ads he aired.
In an e-mail, Fabrizio refused to fulfill the request, saying it was "contrary to public records law."
"I am not a state employee or state contractor, nor have I been paid with state funds. I am a privately retained political adviser," Fabrizio wrote.
"The political advice and counsel that I provide is contracted and paid for by political committees and does not involve the transaction of governmental business," he added. "Accordingly, any communications or other documents concerning same are not subject to Florida's public records law."
When the newspapers asked Scott's office to confirm Fabrizio's assessment, Carolyn Timmann, director of Scott's Office of Open Government, referred questions to Charles Trippe, Scott's general counsel.
Scott's office declined to say whether focus groups were used during the transition to shape Scott's agenda.
Instead, Scott's spokesman said no documents related to focus groups could be found inside Scott's office.
"I promise you," Burgess said, "we will turn over all public records."
Michael C. Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.