- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Dec. 9

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on missing emails:

Gov. Rick Scott claims to believe strongly in open government and Florida’s Sunshine Law. But he and the state seem to have a recurring problem with emailing in the shadows.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, as many Floridians were preparing for their annual Turkey Day feast and shopping extravaganza, the governor’s office provided a cornucopia of emails from Scott’s personal Gmail account.

It was a long overdue response to a records request, and curious considering Scott’s attorneys initially had denied the emails even existed. The timing also was suspiciously convenient, coming just three weeks after the Nov. 4 election in which Scott defeated Charlie Crist in a bitter, close contest.

Thus it was not surprising Monday when Leon Circuit Court Judge Charles Francis ruled that Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews may amend his existing public records lawsuit against the governor to include an allegation that Scott intentionally withheld the emails in violation of state law.

Scott’s attorney Thomas Bishop had asked the court to strike from the record attempts by Andrews to include what he considered “gratuitous, impertinent and scandalous” allegations. However, when asked by Miami Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas after the hearing Monday whether he had advised the governor to wait until after the election to release the emails, Bishop referred all questions to the governor’s office.

Andrews initially filed the complaint against Scott in November 2013, and more than three months ago Klas and the AP’s Gary Fineout requested Scott’s official-business emails from his private accounts. Scott had a personal Gmail account separate from his official state account, but insisted that he did not conduct public business on the private account. There’s nothing illegal about that, but private emails about state business become public records subject to the Sunshine Law.

Scott now says it was an “oops” moment - he didn’t realize at the time that he failed to hit the “forward” button on his Gmail to send those emails dealing with state business to his state account. Hey, modern technology can be so confusing.

Mistakes happen, either by human error or technical failures. But even a generous acceptance of excuses about email glitches does not justify the long time it has taken to fulfill records requests. That is at least a violation of the spirit of the Sunshine Law. Such delays undermine the law’s intent to hold public officials accountable.




Dec. 9

Gainesville (Florida) Sun on Scott’s DEP hire:

Herschel Vinyard, who has been secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection since 2011, recently announced his resignation.

Gov. Rick Scott asked Cliff Wilson, the deputy secretary for regulatory programs, to serve as the interim secretary. Wilson, 35, has been with the DEP for about three years. Eric Draper, director of Audubon of Florida, said: “We don’t know much about Cliff or his background. Not much has happened there to distinguish him.”

No offense to Wilson, but Florida deserves a distinguished DEP secretary. After all, Florida is on the verge of spending billions of taxpayer dollars on programs related to the environment. The state’s natural assets are legion, and many of them were acquired by the public by forward-thinking programs. Yet too many of those same assets are being stressed by development, population growth, invasions of non-native species and the effects of bad political decisions - including sweeping deregulation during the past four years.

When Scott nominated Vinyard nearly four years ago, a spokesman for Associated Industries of Florida lauded the choice, labeling the nominee “a rock-solid businessperson.”

But Floridians seldom felt as though the DEP secretary was dedicated to preserving and protecting Florida’s environmental assets, and maximizing the enormous public and private investments in them. Instead, Vinyard’s tenure seemed to be about creating a “balance” between the financial interests of business and enforcement of regulations.

Perhaps that is one reason 75 percent of voters recently favored amending the state constitution to require Florida to spend a fixed percentage of documentary tax revenue on land and water conservation, also known as Amendment 1.

Implementation of that amendment will provide billions of dollars for preserving and protecting Florida’s environment.

A DEP secretary with a solid conservation record, in addition to top-notch administrative and political skills, could help provide the Scott administration with the credibility it needs to oversee the spending.




Dec. 9

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on Russia:

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who loves to strut on the world stage, appears intent on regaining his nation’s lost stature. But the reality is that Russia is a nation in decline.

Global oil prices have tumbled to a five-year low, and Russia’s ruble has fallen 40 percent against the dollar so far this year. Economists predict that inflation may soon reach 9 percent and continue climbing.

Even more serious for Putin, although likely to draw less attention from the Russian people, is another prediction by economists: Capital flight is expected to reach $128 billion.

In other words, Russia has serious financial problems that Putin had not anticipated. It is something for which he is to blame, however.

“It is a completely new reality for him,” said Sergei M. Guriev, an economist who chose exile last year.

“Whenever Russia wanted the oil price to go up, it has gone up,” Guriev said. “He has always been lucky, and this time he is not lucky.”

In the United States, we have long worried about our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. In Russia, there’s an even more striking dependency on domestic oil production, which provides 60 percent of the nation’s exports.

Though Americans may rejoice in the recent drop in prices at the gasoline pump, these low prices represent a clear threat to Russia’s economy and, if less directly, to Putin’s stewardship.

In the wake of the Western sanctions, Moscow thought it would find financial help in China, but the banks there apparently do not have the capacity. Thus the debt could deplete Russia’s $400 billion in foreign currency reserves.

Vedomosti, Russia’s most respected business daily, last week published an editorial that suggested that “the biggest problem of Russian leadership is inability to admit mistakes” and declared that “the economy is seriously ill, and the ruble rate is one of the indicators crying about the illness.”

And it added this potent comment: “Russia’s leadership refuses to admit there is an illness, and pushes it into the depths.”

The West’s big fear? That Putin may see war as a way out of his troubles. Then our present domestic worries would seem insignificant.



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