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Nancy Smith

Email Vigilance? Not During the Charlie Crist Years

October 9, 2011 - 6:00pm

On a hot day in mid-August, without so much as a press release to declare it, Gov. Rick Scott's office reached a considerable milestone.

It seems that within the first seven and a half months of the governor taking office, Scott's Office of Open Government had processed more public records requests -- much of it for email -- than Charlie Crist's had in all of the four years Crist served as the state's chief executive.

Strange, wouldn't you say?

Between Jan. 4 and Oct. 5, Scott's office processed some 1,021 public records requests. Yet, from the day Crist was inaugurated until the day he left office, public records requests numbered 961 total.

OK, the press flat-out didn't like Scott. His communications office sparred with reporters daily. But you would think that a few folks in the press would open up a little dialogue on why they could conduct a public records feeding frenzy on one governor, after giving the other a free pass and a kiss on the cheek.

According to Scott's Office of Open Government, the 1,021 public records requests varied in scope, from requests for individual documents or lists, to very broad, complex searches for electronic and printed materials.

On the other hand, Crist's 961 requests for records amounted to a paltry 19 a month for his full term of office. Between 2007 and 2011 when Crist served, the OG did not routinely assist with requests from the press, which were minimal and primarily requests for appointments applications and the governors calendar. Occasionally, the OG would assist with redactions.

Compare that to Scott's average 113 a month since his inauguration.

Here's my point:

There's nothing wrong with the press climbing all over Rick Scott, rolling up a long list of public records requests. They get a tip, they work it, they leave no stone unturned. That's what the press does. And it's put a little starch in the governor's act since he took office.

But what if Capitol reporters had developed the same mentality when they were covering Charlie Crist? What if they hadn't allowed Crist to use them like a litter of new puppies?

Would they have discovered three years earlier that the Taj Mahal was a boondoggle, and Crist -- like Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink who signed all the checks -- knew something very extravagant was going on with a new courthouse?

Would they have discovered sooner that Crist's downsized deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. to buy overpriced land was not in the best interest of saving the Everglades?

Would they have worked a little quicker to tote up Crist's $430,000 European vacation, in which he took his fiance, his fiance's sister, nine bodyguards and several dozen of Crist's closest friends and business associates? Would more editors have slammed it on their opinion pages?

Unlike Scott, the press corps loved Charlie Crist, who was nothing if not accessible. He gave everybody his cell phone number, opened up the governor's mansion like an armed forces canteen, leaked stories to favorite reporters and put his arm around the guys with cameras and notebooks.

But the numbers -- check them out in the attachments below -- tell a story: Diligence watching Scott, sloppiness watching Crist. Sorry to say all they do is make a collection of duped groupies out of the 2007-2010 Capitol press corps.

This is an opinion column: Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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