- Associated Press - Saturday, December 23, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A highly publicized effort by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to put his emails - as well as the emails of his top staff - online has been quietly shuttered.

More than five years ago Scott launched “Project Sunburst” with fanfare and called it an “unprecedented step” to give citizens a transparent window into his administration. Scott made the decision to make public his emails several months after he ordered an investigation into how and why emails he wrote right before he became governor were deleted.

But this fall the main part of the “Project Sunburst” site was taken down completely. And before that happened, many of Scott’s staff stopped making their emails available to the site.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said Friday that the site used a version of Microsoft Outlook that is 14 years old and that upgrading it would have cost taxpayers “tens of thousands of dollars.”

He said the administration plans in a few weeks to create an online home for those emails that were previously stored on “Project Sunburst.” Tupps also promised that new emails from Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera would eventually be posted as well.

“Every email hosted on Sunburst will still be available online,” Tupps said. “Also, the Governor and Lt. Governor’s emails will be posted on our website on a weekly basis where we currently post all other public records.”

But media organizations seeking emails by Scott’s top staff will have to make public records requests for them. When “Project Sunburst” was launched, it included emails from nearly a dozen top aides to the Republican governor. Scott also promised to extend the project to other state agencies but that never happened.

Late Saturday a spokesman for Scott’s press office said that the administration was also going to post online new emails from the governor’s chief of staff.

Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a media advocacy group, praised the governor when he first started “Project Sunburst.” But she said it never lived up to the initial hype.

“After such great fanfare, it was ultimately worthless and I think most people are making requests for emails rather than going to the governor’s website,” Petersen said. “I wish Gov. Scott and his staff would embrace sunshine rather than give it lip service through projects like this.”

Scott’s decision in 2012 to make the emails public followed numerous complaints during his first year in office from media organizations that his administration was not fulfilling public records requests in a timely fashion. During his first year in office, Scott ordered an investigation into how emails he had written between his election and taking office were deleted. Ultimately authorities concluded there was no evidence they were intentionally deleted.

The embarrassing deletion of the emails prompted the GOP-controlled Legislature to pass a law requiring the governor and other statewide elected officials to preserve and make public any documents and emails they send between their election and the time they are officially sworn into office. Scott supported the measure and signed it into law.


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