Open government advocates say Florida Governor Rick Scott is stepping around his "big step forward for transparency."
The Miami Herald reports Scott's highly-touted "Project Sunburst," a website through which the public can access the email accounts of Scott and his top aides, is almost practically useless because the group eschews email as a primary means of communication -- and employees are cautious about communicating problems to Scott's administration electronically.
"It's been a disappointment, to say the least," Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation told the Herald. "The manipulation of content and lack of substantive communications — there's simply not much there of any real value to the public."
Chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth said he not only lacks time to access emails because of daily meetings, but that "interpersonal communication is probably more productive and purposeful than an email system."
That sentiment wasn't expressed when Scott unveiled Project Sunburst in May, touting the system as an "unprecedented" program giving "the citizens of Florida and members of the media an open and transparent window into how their state government works."
“Since my first day in office, I have committed to making sure the citizens of our state have access to the information they need to hold their state government accountable,” Scott said in a statement, pledging "my emails" would be online alongside nearly a dozen high-ranking state officials.
But that has not always been the case. The Tampa Bay Times reports that during his 2010 transition, Scott's staff destroyed emails of public record and "communicated extensively" using private accounts -- then Scott refused to use email during his first eight months in office.
Project Sunburst previously came under fire in July when the Times/Herald reported it had not been publishing unfavorable messages sent to Scott's official email account. Instead, the system was pulling only from a second account not published on any state website, but listed mainly on Tea Party websites across the state.
After Scott encouraged journalists to use Project Sunburst in lieu of public records request, at least one media report about public opinion was reportedly skewed by the omission. The governor's office said in a statement sent to The Huffington Post that Scott's official email had not been included to "ensure the privacy of citizens whose emails include personal information" and so that "technical issues" could be addressed.