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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Why were nursing home's voicemails to governor deleted?

Gov. Rick Scott, with Sen. Marco Rubio, talks about Hurrican Irma at a press conference in Doral on Sept. 6.
Gov. Rick Scott, with Sen. Marco Rubio, talks about Hurrican Irma at a press conference in Doral on Sept. 6.
Published Sep. 27, 2017

If we've learned anything during the Rick Scott years, it is that this is a governor to whom transparency and adherence to the state's public records and Sunshine Laws are about as welcome an intrusion as a caraway seed stuck under a denture.

Compared to the Scott cone of silence, the Freemasons are gossipy blabbermouths.

At last count, 11 elderly residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills have died in the wake of Hurricane Irma after the facility's air conditioning failed.

Questions have been raised about the facility's preparedness to deal with the threat posed to its senior residents struggling to survive as temperatures inside the building rose.

What role did Scott and his minions play in trying to provide emergency assistance to the facility?

And the real answer may never be known since Scott's office was all too quick to delete voicemails left on the governor's personal cellphone by the nursing facility reportedly seeking help as the air conditioning failed.

What was said? How critical were the messages? Did they inform the governor of the looming danger?

We'll never know because Scott's office deemed them not important enough to preserve in cavalier indifference to the state's public records laws.

Scott's apparatchiks have claimed they passed on the messages from the nursing home to the appropriate state officials at the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Health to look into the problems.

Eleven bodies later, everybody seems to still be looking into the problems.

Scott functionaries say the messages from the Rehabilitation Center were routinely deleted because: A) they were forwarded to other agencies and B) they were regarded as merely "transitory," obsolete communications of precious little short-term administrative value.

And yes, feel free to indulge in a forehead slap, or two.

Indeed, "transitory" messages are defined by the governor's supernumeraries as such things as announcements of office events like holiday parties or group lunches.

Or put another way, voicemail messages from a nursing facility without air conditioning were regarded about the same as a communique announcing the Halloween picnic has been moved from one side of the Governor's Mansion to the other?

The exact content of the voicemail messages are critical public records in determining who is telling the truth about the urgency conveyed to Scott's office and precisely what action the governor decided to take.

And now all we have is Scott's word. Tallahassee, we have a problem.

It is ridiculous that Scott's enablers would equate deleting voicemail messages begging for help in a literal life and death situation with an office lunch announcement.

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To be sure, the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has much to account for -- such as residents weren't moved earlier to Memorial Regional Hospital directly across the street.

But the haste with which Scott's office has deleted the Rehabilitation Center's voicemails also casts a shadow over whether the governor and his staff are trying to cover their own keisters for not moving swiftly enough to protect the state's most vulnerable residents.

The voicemails are public records that speak directly to Gov. Rick Scott's crisis management skills, or perhaps his buck-passing expertise.

Scott's gofers want to suggest that we should all move along. Nothing to see here. Trust us.

But Scott has never earned that trust.

Since before he was even sworn into office nearly seven years ago, Scott has consistently attempted to circumvent Florida's public records and open meetings laws.

And now the governor and his public relations flacks expect everyone to believe the voicemail entreaties from a nursing home seeking help can be blithely destroyed because they were treated the same as a reminder not to forget that the potluck Monday office lunch?

We'll never know what exactly was in those voicemails or how Scott reacted to them. And neither will 11 late residents of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.