Half the questions Gov. Rick Scott was asked at a Florida Press Association/Florida Society of News Editors luncheon today touched on a subject that has been a sore spot in Scott’s relationship with the press — his policies on open government, which haven’t been very open.
His first questioner noted that Lucy Morgan’s reporting for the St. Petersburg Times on the Tallahassee “Taj Mahal” scandal required hundreds of pages of records, which probably cost less than $50. Under Scott’s new public records policy, the cost would have been in the thousands. Is Scott concerned that the financial benefits of charging for records are offset by the harm of clogging the flow of information?
Scott repeated what his office said when it first announced its new policy — the charges were a response to a growing volume of requests. Scott said his predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist, had received 900 record requests. His office, by contrast, has received 743 during the first several months of his term.
“The number of requests has skyrocketed,” Scott said, so it’s only fair to taxpayers that they are charged for requesting records. Besides, he said, his administration is working to put more information online.
So far, that effort has been piecemeal. The governor’s website offers executive orders (which were available online under previous administrations), an organizational chart for the governor’s office, a pair of letters, and a report on preparedness for nuclear disasters. Some cursory information about state spending, payroll, and regulations can be found on Scott’s separate “right to know” website and a Transparency Florida website created by the Legislature.
That might help, but it hardly answers all the requests that have been piling up. Morgan herself had a follow-up question: Why not put online the records that are sought in these expensive requests?
“I think it’s a good idea to put some of it up on the Internet,” he said, adding that his office is working on that.