Gov. Rick Scott opened his door wider for government-in-the-sunshine Thursday by making it easier and less expensive for Floridians to obtain public records from his office. It is a solid step in the right direction and an indication that the governor is making positive changes as he overhauls his staff and grows more accustomed to the scrutiny that comes with public service.
Scott's initial policy appeared designed to discourage public records requests by making them too time-consuming and expensive to pursue. Regardless of the intent, the result was that copies of one week of communications director Brian Burgess' e-mail cost more to obtain than all of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's e-mail during her time in office. The unreasonable fees based on the time it took to produce the records and who produced them stretched the legal requirements of the public records law and violated their spirit. The hostility toward openness and public records in some corners of the Governor's Office was palpable.
The revised policy is a substantial improvement and shows Scott has listened and responded to the concerns. The recalculation of how fees for records will be charged and a commitment to use the least expensive staff able to do the work, as the law requires, brings the governor more in line with common practice. His recommitment to make more public documents available online also is welcome. His top staff members have been instructed on the legal requirements to preserve and produce e-mail regarding public business that is sent to or from their private e-mail accounts. The use of private e-mail accounts to conduct public business should be discouraged, but there is no reason such e-mail should not be routinely copied to government computer servers and accessible.
Every governor has a learning curve about open meetings and public records, and this one has been too long even for someone who spent his career in the private sector. It is no coincidence that this festering issue was addressed as soon as some key staffers departed, a new chief of staff started work and more enlightened voices prevailed. Scott and his reworked top staff deserve credit for acknowledging a serious problem regarding the public's access to records, taking meaningful steps to correct it and committing to make improvements. Florida's commitment to public records and open government is steadfast, and every governor should accept and embrace that accountability.