Quote of the Week: "As recounted above, the governor has had what can best be described as a series of unfortunate incidents when it comes to preserving records he was required by law to preserve." – From an emergency motion filed on behalf of the First Amendment Foundation last week
Over the past four years, this lovely state made up of fading citrus smells, exhaustive strip-mall sprawl, income disparity, a cheeseburger, some roller coasters, some starving slave labor making tomatoes happen and one frightening Medicare-defrauding governor has endured its share of heavy sighs and sunshine. However, we have also enjoyed the eye-popping irony of Sunshine Laws, ethics reform and the grand mirage that somehow someone in Tallahassee was going to care about truth. Then we all went to the bar, did a shot and laughed.
What we're getting at here is that actions speak louder than fake laws, and the state – like the county before and after it – doesn't quite understand how those laws work when it comes to public records or the maintenance of digital communications. Maybe by now everyone wants to roll their eyes and say things about tempests and teapots, but if the First Amendment Foundation – a nonprofit that exists solely to keep you informed of what happens behind the mahogany walls of state and municipal government – has to pull out a 28-page motion (as it did last week) to ensure that officials aren't governing on the sly, then it might be worth sitting down, cocking a brow and wondering what is being hidden.
We don't blame you for feeling a little threadbare on stories that star groups of concerned citizens – like FAF or the League of Women Voters or Organize Now – because they do come off a little commonplace these days. Lawsuits come up, and just like a game of Whack-a-mole, they get banged down. There's a certain inevitability/futility cocktail here that even Jim Jones would have been proud of. However, perusing this latest motion, the deer-hoof tracks to the garden of unfortunate denials are pretty apparent. To wit:
The FAF is making it clear that they don't just mean to have access to your dot-matrix email reprints, but to everything you throw into the "cloud" or into "metadata stripper utilities" or "file defragmentation or compression programs," because we can't be too clear these days about where the pay-for-play is happening. We just know it's happening.
Not trying to bury any ledes here – we know that this most recent influx of scandal is attached to the unseemly and unexplained firing of Gerald Bailey, former commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement – but it speaks to a much larger problem, on which nobody seems able to get any traction. Why? Because political angles only make cute earrings in election cycles, and Scott has already won a second term. But it's worth making the point that this is a cycle of abuse.
"The governor has had what can best be described as a series of unfortunate incidents when it comes to preserving records that he was required by law to preserve," plaintiff's attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen wrote in the motion, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "She wants a court-ordered inventory of all systems and content to be preserved during the lawsuit and trial."--
So far, there has been no response from the governor's office, which means more litigation is likely.
"I'm very disappointed by the lack of response from our Governor and Cabinet, as I am with Mr. Meggs' response," Petersen said in a prepared statement. "The failure of Governor Scott to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct a full investigation is disheartening. Florida's constitution guarantees us a transparent and accountable government. Yet, due to the inaction and disinterest of our elected officials, we're forced to go to court in order to learn what truly happened and enforce our constitutional rights. That is simply wrong. Public trust and confidence must be restored and our elected officials held accountable for their actions."
Seriously, even Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam called out the Scott-free approach to the Bailey debacle in a staff-written op-ed that was mysteriously never published, the Miami Herald reports. If this onslaught of newsfeed doesn't make you question how your government is working behind your back, then, uh, maybe Adam Putnam of the perfectly coiffed hair will?
"The members of the Cabinet are required to meet on a regular basis to consider items that are required by statute to come before the Cabinet," Putnam's piece reads. "The recent, sudden transition in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, however, represents a breakdown in the Cabinet process. When key decisions are made without the concurrence of all Cabinet members and outside of Cabinet meetings, we are robbing our constituents of their right to witness these deliberations. Moreover, such activities are not reflective of the governing body that was established in Florida's Constitution and do not represent the open process and shared responsibilities that were intended to be carried out by this governing body."
More to the point, though, Organize Now director Stephanie Porta, who helped lead the charge during the county's public records gymnastic-fantastic failures, sees a connection in the obvious obfuscation that led to this mess.
"Clearly conservative leadership has a bit of an issue when it comes to preserving public records," she writes in an email. "As we've seen here in Orange County, Mayor Teresa Jacobs and county commissioners were found guilty of destroying public records [TEXTGATE], a behavior that appears to be part of a right-wing culture of corruption stemming from the governor's office. It's time Floridians find someone in government to hold the politicians who make (and break) the laws accountable. The saying is make OR break, politicians can't do both."
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