Florida claims it is not responsible for personal messaging accounts

Apr 25, 2014

With respect to providing access to public records, there’s one rule that ought to serve as a stable guide for officials within Florida. And that is, to always be open and transparent. And never try to be too cute and too clever for your own good.

That really should be easy enough to remember and adhere to. However, the Florida Governor is not able to grasp this simple advice. This is an apparent conclusion to reach regarding Gov. Scott’s desire to avoid proffering reasonable access to email and text messages by administration employees, who frequently utilize personal phone and computer accounts as a way of conducting public business.

Scott’s administration is intent on making it far more difficult for this form of employee correspondence to become available to both the media and interested citizens. It is now in pursuit of a legal ruling which would force anyone asking for email and text records of current or former staff to directly request those records from the individuals themselves, rather than via the administration.

This evidently is a cynical ploy which has been designed to create unreasonable obstacles for anyone and everyone seeking public records that are associated to countless issues affecting Florida’s citizens. It is also in violation of the spirit of Florida’s Sunshine Laws, which are arguably among the most progressive and visionary within the entire country.

Erecting Roadblocks

There’s no doubt plenty that’s distasteful regards to the Scott administration’s effort to curtail a currently acceptable level of access to employee email and text messages.

Scott’s proposal may well force record-seekers to have little choice but to file a lawsuit against those state workers who make the decision not to provide requested information.

This in turn could lead to media and citizens having to invest in extremely sizable legal fees, simply to gain access to public records they ought to be able to obtain easily.

In many cases, no doubt this will even discourage citizens and media outlets from following through on credible requests for information and records.

Nevertheless, that appears to be the precise effect that Scott’s administration wants this maneuver to generate.

The aim appears to be hamper Florida’s media outlets and citizens from gaining information about state business from the employees who are in fact working for the people.

Tough Spot for Employees

It’s also unseemly that the proposal by Scott’s administration, if successful, would place an undue and somewhat immoral burden on state employees.

Numerous state workers could find themselves having to choose between either openly cooperating with any request to provide records (which may inevitably annoy bosses who would much prefer their subordinates to block and stall) or becoming uncooperative (which could then lead to them being held personally liable if sued by a media outlet or citizen).

It’s fainthearted for the Scott administration to utilize state employees — most of whom are conscientious public servants merely aiming to fulfil their job role — as extolled human shields, propped up in place to ensure that the administration is not held directly accountable for the mishandling of requests for records.

The state’s employees warrant far better than this from Gov. Scott, just as the citizens and media outlets that are seeking unfettered access to public records also do. Scott should realize this, and he should know better.

The governor ought to personally put an end to the administration’s resolution to push through this brazen, unnecessarily hostile approach to providing access to public records.

Many would argue that the Scott administration is being far too cute — and much too clever — for its own good.