After bursting into the Sunshine, clouds now surround Governor's public email website

Jul 31, 2012

A website set up to make the emails of top officials and staffers in the Governor’s office available to the public is again in the spotlight  after a Times/Miami Herald report revealed the email address used for Governor Rick Scott isn’t his official state account. The “Project Sunburst” portal lets the public view emails for the governor, lieutenant governor and executive staff.

The Governor’s office has confirmed the finding and says Scott’s real email address will now be posted to the site.

“All emails sent to and received by the Governor are considered public records and have always been available under Florida’s Sunshine Law.   The Sunburst system provides an additional level of transparency above and beyond what the law requires,” said Jackie Schutz, spokeswoman for Governor Rick Scott.

“Many citizens email private information to the Governor’s Office that could inadvertently be made public under the Sunburst system.  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.  The initial launch of the Sunburst system only included 11 email accounts so that technical issues could be resolved before more email addresses are added.”

The Governor’s office says it is merging the Governor’s two accounts this week so that all messages will appear on Project Sunburst.

The website was created to combat criticism against the governor for policies that made it harder to access public records. And when it was launched earlier in the year it was touted as a way to improve transparency between the Governor’s office and the public. But the email listed for the Governor on the site wasn’t his official state address and was largely circulated to conservative leaning groups—skewing the comments in favor of the Governor’s policies

Dan Krassner heads the government Watchdog group Integrity Florida. He says he noticed discrepancies when sending his own emails to the governor and other top staffers. Some emails would show up on the website, and others wouldn’t.

“It seems to be a very subjective system where disclosure happens immediately for positive emails about the administration and those asking tougher questions don’t appear in Project Sunburst as much.”  

Emails sent to Florida’s top officials and staffers are screened before they are posted to Project Sunburst to make sure personal information isn’t released. But Krassner says there’s a fine line between screening and censoring messages that may be negative.