By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Sunburst, the online database of work emails that Gov. Rick Scott created to make his office more transparent, has yet to shine a bright light on the executive branch of state government.
The program, which has been in place since May, is not even close to representing what’s going on in the governor’s office, activists and open government advocates say.
Workers at state agencies also are wary of using email to alert Scott’s inner circle (and consequently the media) to impending trouble.
Anyone can access the email of Scott and his top aides at www.flgov.com/sunburst. But if Sunburst were designed to end secrecy in state government, it hasn’t.
“It’s been a disappointment, to say the least,” said Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation, who had high hopes because the search for email from Scott’s office had been costly and time-consuming.
“The manipulation of content and lack of substantive communications — there’s simply not much there of any real value to the public,” Petersen said.
Instead of communicating via email, staffers including Adam Hollingsworth, Scott’s chief of staff, rely on face-to-face communications and meetings, which makes email transparency largely pointless.
When the governor’s office launched the program more than seven months ago, Scott also promised that other government agencies under his control would be included in the database. That hasn’t happened either.
Open government advocates such as Dan Krassner of Integrity Florida told the Times that data in the email transparency program isn’t getting updated as often as it should.
Just this week, another effort for a government transparency program started to face uncertainty. State lawmakers are looking to put the brakes on a budget transparency program that hasn’t even launched yet, even though leaders in the Florida Legislature touted the program as a big step forward for government transparency.