Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Government on a need-to-know basis

Surely there must be an underling, an apparatchik, perhaps a factotum or two within the Get Smart labyrinth of Rick Scott's inner sanctum who could gently remind him he is the governor of Florida and not the high commissar of SMERSH.

At the rate the Scott politburo is operating in secret, the state motto ought to be: "The Kumquat Barks at Midnight."

It should have been a tipoff early on that Scott's reign would look like the Skull and Bones society meets The Da Vinci Code when the governor proudly announced he intended his administration to be an unprecedented "transparent window into how state government works."

And how does it work? Good luck trying to find out. For no sooner had Scott promised to be more open than a Kardashian than the governor started hiding his travel itineraries, leaving gaping holes in his schedule and treating public records that should be accessible to anyone who wants to see them as if they were the Manhattan Project files.

Scott created something called Sunburst, which was supposed to be a comprehensive collection of all electronic communication among the governor, his staff and others in contact with his office.

Instead, the system might be better labeled Sunbust, as Floridians are reduced to seeing information about as revealing as first lady Ann Scott reminding her husband, "Dearest Love Muffin, don't forget to pick up the kale on the way home from having your cranial hard drive oiled at Jiffy Lube."

Instead the Scott administration, which has become a sort of Scientology of bureaucrats, has apparently relied on private email and cellphone accounts to communicate, leaving behind a sparse trail of sneers regarding respecting the public's right to know.

Are there certain facets to running the state that might well be justified keeping mum about? Probably. But they ought to be extremely rare.

Yet this is a governor who seems to believe almost every aspect of his administration is a top secret/for your eyes only/loose lips sink ships classified matter of state. Do you suppose Scott's Florida Department of Law Enforcement code name is "M"?

One oddity about the Greta Garbo of the Apalachee Parkway uncovered by Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Mary Ellen Klas are messages sent to Scott's private Gmail account from the governor's former chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, shilling for state Sen. John Thrasher to be chosen as lieutenant governor. Shouldn't the public have a right to know about the political jockeying to fill a do-nothing office with fewer job responsibilities than the state's snowplow fleet?

But Scott, who has become more adept at evasion than an Irish setter confronted with an accident on the kitchen floor, insisted he only uses his private email to "primarily communicate with my family." Who knew Scott had adopted the 61-year-old Steve MacNamara?

Much of the debate over Scott's aversion to the state's open government laws stems from a long-simmering lawsuit filed by Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews, who has repeatedly taken the governor to court to gain access to emails, text messages and other public records.

Andrews has been dismissed by Scott as merely "an individual that sues the state, tries to cause problems."

However, Andrews would be a lot less problematic if Scott fulfilled his promise to make the inner workings of his administration the "unprecedented, transparent window into how government works" instead of a Tallahassee Freemason Lodge.

It shouldn't rise to the level of planning a SEAL Team 6 raid to hide the names of who has scheduled meetings with the governor, including meetings involving members of Scott's staff.

Is it little wonder then that problem-makers like Andrews begin to think if the governor wants to conceal a meeting with Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard, what else might the state's chief executive officer be hiding?

If the governor's recent trip to hunt at the tony King Ranch in Texas as the guest of sugar industry chaperones was so benign, why didn't Scott disclose the trip on his precious Sunboondoggle website?

What better public service for the body politic to see "how state government works"?

The Rick Scott administration, which has become a sort of Scientology of bureaucrats, has apparently relied on private email and cellphone accounts to communicate.

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