TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday enlisted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate why e-mail accounts from his transition, including his own, were deleted and whether any of the records can be recovered.
"Some or all of this e-mail data may compromise public records under the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes Chapter 119," Scott wrote in a letter released to the Times/Herald late Friday.
The move came after the newspapers reported that as many as 50 e-mail accounts, including Scott's, were erased from a private company's computer server shortly after Scott's transition. That two-month planning period is crucial for any new governor, as hires are made in the administration and a policy agenda takes shape.
In the letter to FDLE, Scott asks the state's top law enforcement agency to "investigate thoroughly the issue."
It was an abrupt shift from Thursday, when Scott said during a St. Petersburg Times editorial board meeting that reporters had all of the e-mails in question.
In an interview with Associated Press editors Friday, Scott said "you give people as much information as you can" and promised that any public records request not handed over in 60 days should be done without any charge to news organizations.
The wipe of the private computer servers has been described as an oversight.
Chris Kise, a former Florida solicitor general who served as an attorney for the transition, said the Scott team was warned the accounts would be closed after Scott took office, but top-level staff did not understand that meant the content would be deleted.
Kise acknowledged for the first time this week the e-mails were lost, more than eight months after newspapers began asking for correspondence from the transition and at least four months after he learned the original electronic records were deleted. He has recommended Scott's administration approve guidelines for future transitions to avoid a similar situation.
State law requires transition records be kept. State archives include documents from governors' transitions back to 1971.
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.
The e-mails for Scott's transition team were maintained by Rackspace, a Texas company. The contract with Rackspace was with another Texas company, Harris Media, which handled online communications for Scott's campaign and transition.
Rackspace spokeswoman Rachel Ferry said the company hosts "millions of e-mail accounts."
"When a customer terminates their account with us, we delete all data for security purposes," she said.
Kise tried to recover the e-mails from Rackspace, but was told the e-mails were deleted.
Without access to the server, Kise asked some members of Scott's team to hand over e-mails on their personal accounts.
Those e-mails have been provided to the Times/Herald. They include 69 e-mails that Scott sent as the governor-elect and 78 that he received. The e-mails run the gamut from details on Scott's new stationery to the hiring of agency heads to meeting a Florida Supreme Court justice.
But the records also leave clues that not everything has been recovered. At least two messages refer to e-mails that Scott traded with people outside the transition team but that were not included in the documents provided. There is one e-mail from his legislative liaison and an exchange between Scott and his pollster.
Opponents of the first-term Republican jumped on the news Friday.
Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan questioned the timing. Scott's team only acknowledged the e-mails had been deleted this week, despite learning details about the situation in April.
"After dragging their feet on a public records request for months, his team waited to drop the bombshell in the dead of night in the middle of August," Jordan said.
ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon told the Times/Herald that his group was considering a lawsuit in an attempt to recover the records.
Simon called Scott's "disregard" of public records law "an ongoing saga."
"Time and again, the Scott administration has violated the public trust with its disdain for transparency," Simon said.