Florida Governor Opens Up Emails to Public View

29 May 2012

Florida Governor Rick Scott has created a website at which the public can view his email and 11 of his top staff members.

Under “Project Sunburst,” the emails will be accessible to the public through an online, read-only e-mail viewer, subject to certain restrictions.

 “This unprecedented step gives the citizens of Florida and members of the media an open and transparent window into how their state government works,” according to a May 1 announcement, which said that Project Sunburst does not replace the current process for public records requests and that all public records requests will continue to be honored.

“It’s a good first step but there are still a lot of questions,” commented Barbara Petersen, director of the First Amendment Foundation. Journalists are not thrilled with having their emails to officials exposed, she said.

Emails are available on the Governor’s website at www.flgov.com/sunburst through Microsoft Outlook Web Access. Individuals can access the Sunburst system by using the user name and password sunburst.

Project Sunburst policy requires that emails be posted within seven days of receipt or creation unless permission has been granted for an extended deadline. However, the goal is for emails to be available within 24 hours.

Viewable will be emails from the governor and 11 members of the Governor’s Office leadership team, a category that constitutes more than 80 percent of the requests for emails under the Florida public records law.

The officials participating will categorize their email, and can designate them “exempt.” The Governor’s Office of Open Government will review withheld email and make decide what to release. “Any exempt items that require redaction will continue to be available through a public records request,” according to the announcement.

Project Sunburst will be expanded to include other agencies, the announcement states.

Dan Krassner,  the executive director of Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based nonpartisan research institute, said in article, “Let’s hope text messages, social media correspondence, calendars and other information are added as well.” He also urged opening up state government databases.

Last year, Governor Scott launched the website FloridaHasARightToKnow.com that gave the public access to state employee salary information, state pensions with annual benefits of $100,000 or more and information on the review of state rules and regulations.

Petersen noted that she had made public records requests in 2011 concerning the emails of five of the governor’s top staffers. Getting them took 11 months and $5,000.

The Scott administration had an email controversy shortly after the election when email from that period was lost, resulting in passage of legislation that requires incoming state officials to preserve email for the time between their election and when they officially take office.

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