TALLAHASSEE -- Bad news and controversy are routine in the vast state government under Florida Gov. Rick Scotts control. But dont look for clues in Project Sunburst, Scotts program of email transparency.
Thats because Scott doesnt use email as a primary form of communication, and neither does his top aide, chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth.
Workers at state agencies also are wary of using email to alert Scotts 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 was designed to end secrecy in state government, it hasnt.
Its 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 Scotts office had been costly and time-consuming.
The manipulation of content and lack of substantive communications theres simply not much there of any real value to the public, Petersen said.
Hollingsworth, who puts a premium on accessibility, said his days are filled with meetings and he has no time to access email. He said Sunburst is a catalyst for better communication in Scotts office.
We actually enjoy getting together, he said. That sort of interpersonal communication is probably more productive and purposeful than an email system.
The result is that Sunburst, promoted by Scott as an open and transparent window into how state government works, is in reality a vessel for the mundane work of government: meeting notices, routine reports, personnel moves and news releases.
Sunburst is so bland that partisan Democrats, ever eager to find negative material about Scott, pay little attention to it.
I havent had the time, the inclination or the interest, said Mark Hollis, spokesman for Democrats in the state House.
Hollingsworth and Scotts communications director, Melissa Sellers, say they do not use private email accounts for official business.
Another of Sunbursts unfulfilled promises: Scott has not expanded the system to include other agencies under his control as he promised to do in the coming months when he launched the system May 3.
Scott himself often poses a question thats ripe for Sunburst: Is each program achieving what it is intended to?
What Sunburst does best is serve as a tip sheet for reporters burrowing deep into the bureaucracy and as an online town square where people air their grievances with Scott on everything from property insurance premiums to President Barack Obamas policies.
Overall, Id rather have it than not have it, said David Royse, editor of the News Service of Florida.
The brainchild of former Scott chief of staff Steve MacNamara, Sunburst was launched with the promise of unprecedented access to email of Scott and his top aides.
Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan watchdog group, tracks Sunburst daily and finds irregular compliance with Scotts stated goal of making most messages available within 24 hours.
Thats not happening, said Dan Krassner of Integrity Florida.
Integrity Florida also found that some staffers did not comply with Scotts policy to post emails within seven days of receipt.
Governors staff members are responsible for moving their mail to the Sunburst folder. Some email is necessarily delayed to allow time to redact information that is confidential under state law.
As of 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, emails sent to Scott and Hollingsworth were posted within 24 hours, the group said.
But the group found that it had been nine days since any email to Deputy Chief of Staff Chris Finkbeiner was online; 10 days for Sellers; and 14 days for Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carrolls chief of staff, John Konkus.
Sunburst has been just a small burst of sunlight through the big clouds of government secrecy, Krassner said. Wed like to see the governors office deliver on the original promise of Sunburst and meet the governors expectations of 24-hour disclosure.
Hollingsworth said every employee must obey the Sunburst policy and that every Friday all Sunburst accounts are reviewed to be sure people are complying.
Hollingsworth, who arrived two months after Sunburst, quickly fixed the systems most embarrassing failure: the posting of pro-Scott emails and the absence of those critical of him. All are now accessible.
Asked if Scotts people are reluctant to use email to avoid Sunbursts public glare, Hollingsworth said: Im going to leave that for you and others to characterize.