Op-Ed: Governor closing door on state Sunshine Law

Scott limits public access to meetings, gags agencies

In one of his first acts upon taking office, Gov. Rick Scott embraced Florida’s strong Sunshine laws by re-establishing the Office of Open Government — a very welcome executive order.

That decree also sanctioned a new Code of Ethics for his office and ordered his staff to compose a policy to implement recent recommendations by a statewide grand jury investigation into government corruption — another promising step.

Sunday marked the beginning of Sunshine Week in Florida, the media’s annual examination of the state’s constitutional guarantee of government transparency.

First established by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in 2002 as a one-day state report, the now week-long event celebrates Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, which requires that all meetings of state or local government boards or commissions be open to the public unless exempt by a specific statute. State law also allows citizen access to public records.

Initially, Scott appeared to be following in the footsteps of former Gov. Charlie Crist, an ardent proponent of the state’s strong tradition of open government.

But Scott has taken several steps that indicate his opposition to open meetings, government documentation and a free press — all signs that contradict his executive order.

He admits that he shuns e-mail to avoid creating public records, a troubling symptom of secrecy. He issued a gag order on agency secretaries, directing all to secure permission before talking publicly. His office drags its feet fulfilling public records requests.

He limits media access to events and has even cherry-picked journalists to cover gatherings and provide pool reports. He has held meetings with Republican legislators that are closed — a clear violation of state law.

If Scott intends to operate government like a business — in a corporate board room behind closed doors — he’ll continue to run afoul of Florida law. The Constitution demands an open process so taxpayers can examine how their money is being spent and how policies are developed and implemented. Public oversight is an essential component of our democracy. The Sunshine State’s top elected official should be a leading proponent, not an opponent of open meetings and records.