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Scott transition team knew of e-mail deletions in March, records show

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott said he learned within the past two weeks that state transition e-mail accounts could not be recovered from a private computer server, potentially erasing records that state law requires be kept.

But documents show that Rackspace, the Texas company that provided the e-mail service, notified Scott's transition team as early as March 14 that records no longer existed from 44 of 47 e-mail accounts, including Scott's.

News of the disconnect between Scott and his transition staff comes at the same time the state produced 700 pages of e-mails from Susie Wiles, Scott's campaign manager and legislative liaison during the transition.

Wiles' e-mails provide additional details about the hectic and disorganized two-month window between Scott's election and his inauguration. Among the new insights: A schedule that shows Scott had a private dinner with former President George W. Bush shortly after the November election and e-mails from former Gov. Jeb Bush questioning a decision to dismiss three African-American employees working in the Governor's Office.

"I don't quite understand this decision," Bush wrote about the dismissal of Mavis Knight from the appointments office. "The transition team is letting dedicated, admired people (go) without hiring anyone? Mavis has served four governors well."

A day later, Bush expressed regret about two more dismissals in the office: Freda King and Marsha Smith. "All three are African Americans, nonpolitical and good workers. Freda just lost her son who died in Afghanistan."

• • •

The documents turned over by the Governor's Office show the efforts transition staffers went to retrieve the transition e-mail accounts, which are considered a public record by the Department of State, the agency that archives public records.

But they also show that transition staffers knew their accounts were being deleted.

According to documents provided to the Times/Herald, a staffer with Harris Media — an online communications company that set up the transition accounts through Rackspace — wrote an e-mail to the transition team on Jan. 26 saying all accounts would be closed by the end of the month.

"You will no longer have access to your e-mail inboxes, contacts and messages at that time," the staffer wrote. "Please take time the rest of the week and weekend to copy any of the data you will need from those accounts."

Chris Kise, a Tallahassee lawyer who advised Scott's transition on public records matters, has said transition members did not understand that message meant information would be deleted.

Yet that's exactly what happened.

Scott — who has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the deletion of the accounts — told the Times/Herald he just recently learned recently the e-mails could be gone.

"In the last week and a half, two weeks, I guess they've pretty much come to the conclusion that they couldn't get the ones off, I guess, Rackspace — whatever that is," he said.

State law carries a maximum $500 fine for violations of public records law and more serious penalties, including impeachment, for any official who "knowingly violates" the statutes.

Asked why he waited until recently to call for investigation, Scott said: "It makes sense. When they finally came to the conclusion that they were having a hard … You know, I want to find out why it happened because I want to make sure we do the right things."

• • •

While state officials try to piece together what happened to the e-mail accounts, and if they truly are deleted, Kise continues to cobble together records from the personal e-mail accounts of top transition staffers.

On Wednesday, Kise released a pair of letters from former Gov. Bush offering detailed advice for Scott's first term.

Late Friday, the Times/Herald was given Wiles' e-mails, which expose tensions between members of the transition team and a scramble for power in Scott's administration.

After Scott said he would donate his salary to charity, Wiles e-mailed transition director Enu Mainigi: "As discussed, that 'charity' is the governor's staff salary pool. Is that still the plan? If so, need to tell Rick." Scott is not taking a salary but has been criticized by Democrats for paying many of his top advisers more than previous administrations.

In another e-mail, Fritz Brogan, Mainigi's assistant, e-mailed Wiles and policy adviser Mary Anne Carter asking why Jordan Karem, who had worked on Scott's primary campaign, was on the payroll. "Enu wanted to know where that came from."

"We discussed him at dinner at China Grill," Carter replied.

Mainigi then wrote: "I don't recall discussing him. We need to discuss (because) Rick can't stand him."

In a separate string of e-mails, Carter asked to meet with budget adviser Donna Arduin and the Office of Policy and Budget staff before they met with Scott.

"Are we not better off going through it without RLS (shorthand for Richard Lynn Scott) and then determine what decisions need to be made?" Carter asked. "If there are going to be areas where policy and politics collide, I think it's best to know ahead of time and not have him involved in initial conversations."

Arduin, who was Bush's former budget director, wasn't having it. "You will see how budget meetings go by observing tomorrow," Arduin wrote. "The meetings are the governor meeting with his (budget) staff and making decisions."

Arduin then wrote to Wiles: "Keep the governor out of his budget decisions because we don't want him involved in political decisions … really??!!!"

"This process is beyond amazing to me," Wiles replied.

Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com.

Scott transition team knew of e-mail deletions in March, records show 08/27/11 [Last modified: Sunday, August 28, 2011 12:02am]
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