TALLAHASSEE – Amid criticism from the media and open government advocates, Gov. Rick Scott has tweaked the open records policy that he put into place shortly after taking office, making it slightly cheaper to obtain public records.
Gov. Rick Scott defended his administration’s public records policy to a roomful of media executives Friday at the annual meeting of the Florida Press Association and Florida Society of Newspaper Editors.Journalists have criticized Scott for charging more for public records than his predecessor, Charlie Crist, who provided most documents for free. Scott is charging the maximum amount allowed under Florida’s broad Sunshine Law, including costs for his legal staff to scrub the documents of private information.The number of requests “has skyrocketed” since Scott took office in January, he said.“Part of my job is to make sure we don’t waste taxpayers’ money,” Scott said. “It costs us money to do it. We pass that cost on. It’s the right thing to do.”Scott said he plans to put more records on the Internet but did not elaborate. His office already has posted records his staff has generated — including databases of state employees’ salaries and state workers with pensions worth at least $100,000.As Scott spoke, dozens of demonstrators protesting his economic agenda shouted “Pink Slip Rick” across the street from the waterfront Renaissance Vinoy hotel.After his remarks, the governor fielded a few questions.On signing his first death warrant Thursday night, Scott said, “I prayed about it.”Scott ordered Manuel Valle, convicted of the 1978 murder of Coral Gables police officer Luis Pena, put to death on Aug. 2.“This was the most appropriate case,” Scott said. “He killed a law enforcement officer. He attempted to kill another law enforcement officer. ... It’s a hard decision, but it’s the right thing to do.”Scott also said he supports allowing private vendors to operate RV campgrounds within some state parks.The St. Petersburg Times reported this week that state officials want to add new overnight camping sites to 58 state parks — including space for recreational vehicles. Officials say the existing park campgrounds are typically booked solid.Opposition to the private camps is rising from environmentalists and operators of private campgrounds neighboring the parks.“The reason we have parks is so people will use them,” Scott said.
Standing in front of many of Florida’s newspaper editors for the first time Friday, Gov. Rick Scott said charging for public records was more important than the chilling effect the policy could have on scrutiny of state government.“Part of my job is to make sure I don’t waste taxpayer money,” Scott said at the Florida Press Association/Florida Society of News Editors annual meeting.The appearance was a departure for the governor. Since inserting himself into the state’s political discussion 15 months ago, Scott has declined interview requests from nearly all newspaper editorial boards, a traditional stopping point for all candidates.But Scott said Friday he’s rethinking his boycott.“I’d like to sit down with editorial boards,” Scott said in an exclusive interview with Bay News 9, a Tampa Bay TV station.The change comes as Scott has increased his media exposure since May, when a Quinnipiac University poll showed fewer than one in three Florida voters approved of his job performance. It was among the worst ratings of any governor in the country.Scott remains controversial: He was greeted by about 100 protesters outside the Vinoy Renaissance Resort.But while he says the low ratings don’t bother him, Scott has made a conscious effort to reverse his poll numbers. He has used the Republican Party of Florida to phone voters with pre-recorded messages trumpeting his accomplishments and recently asked supporters to send pre-written letters of praise to newspaper opinion pages.Despite a flurry of news Scott made Thursday and Friday — he gave his blessing to the controversial SunRail project, signed his first death warrant and signed an overhaul of the state’s Medicaid program — half of the six questions Scott fielded from the newspaper group were about new fees for public records and the perception that he is not as transparent as he promised from the campaign trail.“It costs us money to do it,” Scott said of the charges. “We pass that cost on. It’s the right thing to do.”Scott said his communications staff was working to put more records online. Asked if he would post records that have already been requested, Scott said that was “a good idea.”“That’s what we’ll be doing,” he said.Scott says the number of record requests has “skyrocketed” since he took office and open government advocates agree that no other governor has received as many public record requests as Scott.Scott has received 743 requests for records in six months, or about four per day. About 90 percent of those requests have been fulfilled, Scott’s office reported.But there has been wide disagreement over why new fees were created.While Scott says it’s to cover the costs of duplication and redaction, public records experts say its an attempt to create additional hurdles for the public and the press.Brian Crowley, a Palm Beach County-based political blogger and a Florida First Amendment Foundation board member, recently noted that Scott charged more ($784.84) for one week of emails to and from his communications director, Brian Burgess, than Alaska charged ($725.27) to produce two years of former Gov. Sarah Palin’s e-mails.