Florida Governor Rick Scott says he only learned within the past two weeks that emails from the transitional period between his election last fall and his swearing-in as governor had been irretreviably lost.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, however, the Texas company that set up the email accounts notified Scott's transition team by mid-March that emails from 44 out of 47 accounts, including Scott's own, had been permanently deleted.
Documents obtained by the Times/Herald show that a staffer with Harris Media emailed the transition team on January 26 to say that all their accounts would be closed at the end of the month and they would "no longer have access to your e-mail inboxes, contacts and messages."
According to Florida blogger Matthew Hendley, "The man who was Scott's attorney during his transition period as governor-elect says members of Scott's staff simply didn't understand that the emails would be deleted when they closed their account with the private hosting company, Rackspace."
Hendley notes, however, that "Rackspace has an agreement that customers must sign or accept to when they purchase the company's services. Among those conditions are statements that make it very clear that if you don't ask for emails to be archived, they'll be deleted and even recommends archiving services for customers with 'regulatory requirements.'"
The deletions represent a violation of Florida public records law, which provides for penalties ranging from a $500 fine up to impeachment for an official who "knowingly violates" the law.
Harris Media, an Austin, Texas advertising firm with a reputation for its work with Republican candidates had apparently been closely involved with the Rick Scott campaign.
Their website features a glowing testimonial from Scott, stating, "From Day One, Harris Media was an integral part of our team and strategy to reach Floridians. Their expertise helped my campaign quickly surpass my opponents online efforts and deliver my campaign tens of thousands of followers, volunteers, supporters and contributors. Their creative use of new online technologies helped us stay one step ahead of our opponents throughout the campaign."
The Times/Herald reported a week ago that "even though public records requests for the transition e-mails were made by the Times/Herald and other media outlets as early as January — and Scott's camp discovered in April that the accounts were closed — the governor's camp acknowledged what happened only this week."
"In the worst light, there are signs of a coverup," the paper added. "The same month that Scott's team discovered the transition accounts had been closed, communications director Brian Burgess illogically told [Times/Herald reporter Michael C.] Bender that the Governor's Office was not the custodian of the transition records. That would be the same Brian Burgess who has failed for months to produce e-mail he has generated as a public employee in response to public records requests by the First Amendment Foundation."