TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott said he was championing transparency in May when he gave the public access to his emails by posting them online for anyone to see.
But what he failed to say at his May 3 news conference launching Project Sunburst was that the emails he made public were not the emails of his official state account. The emails the public read online were from a different account used almost exclusively by conservative supporters.
On Monday, after the Herald/Times questioned what appeared to be an unrealistically high percentage of favorable emails on the public database, the Scott administration issued a statement acknowledging the two separate e-mail accounts. It also announced that it would phase out RLS@eog.myflorida.com, which Scott solely used to respond to email. That email address — which was not on any official state website — appears on many Tea Party websites across the state, under the heading “Governor Rick Scott’s email.”
“Effective this week, emails sent or received using the official website contact form will also be added to the Sunburst system,” said Scott spokesman Brian Burgess, who emphasized that the governor’s emails are always available through a public records request. On Tuesday morning, the Sunburst site began displaying all emails sent to Scott’s official account, email@example.com.
Scott was not available for comment.
A full list of emails sent to both of Scott’s accounts, going back to May 1, will now be uploaded to the system. Scott’s uses his official state account only to receive emails and not correspond with the public. He sends and receives messages from the unpublished “RLS” account.
The vast majority of the emails displayed on the public database — called “Project Sunburst”— included glowing praise for Scott and his policies, while those appearing on his official state account have been kept out of database.
Under Project Sunburst, the emails of Scott, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, and several of their staff members were to be posted on a public website within 24 hours. Scott said it would give the public and the media a more transparent view of Florida’s government at work. The Sunburst system was supposed to eventually be rolled out to various state agencies.
Scott called it an “open and transparent window into how state government works” and directed people to the Sunburst site to access “my emails.”
That Scott was referring to an unpublished account was not clear to many who have used and tracked the Sunburst system for the last three months.
“It was always my understanding that all of the governor’s email accounts were going to be listed,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. “I find it very odd and misleading that we’re only getting the [positive] stuff.”
Burgess defended Sunburst, calling it the “most transparent public records system in Florida state government” and said that Scott’s official state account was not displayed because of concern for the privacy of people who include personal information in their emails to the governor.
“In an effort to protect those citizens, the initial rollout of the Sunburst system did not include emails sent or received using the official website contact form or its associated email address,” he said.