Governor Scott must be held accountable for violating the law
By Roger Caldwell
There are too many cases in Florida where the governor, the Legislature, or the Cabinet knowingly violates our Constitution and state statutes. They are well aware that they have broken the law, but Floridians are left footing the bill, and it appears that there is nothing the citizens can do. The legal system is set up to keep regular folks uninformed, and our politicians are not transparent.
Something is terribly wrong when Florida taxpayers are expected to pay for elected officials’ misdeeds and bad judgments. To begin with, our governor and his administration have denied public access of government records to the public. Maybe our governor has decided to keep Floridians uninformed, or he enjoys breaking the law.
The governor and his staff received no punishment for not following the letter of the law, and personally paid nothing to defend or settle their wrongdoing. Governor Scott has recently agreed to pay Tallahassee attorney, Steve Andrews $700,000 to end a lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that the governor and several members of his staff violated state law when they created private email accounts.
This settlement is the first time in our state’s history that a sitting governor and attorney general have been sued successfully for violation of Florida’s public-records law. Of the $700,000 settlement, $445,000 will be paid from the Department of Environment, $120,000 from the governor’s office, $75,000 from the attorney’s office, and $60,000 from the Department of State.
The expenses did not end with the governor and his staff finding money in the different state departments to settle this case, but the taxpayers also paid outside legal fees. To date, some $165,000 has been paid to outside law firms even though the governor has in-house lawyers on the state’s payroll.
As the governor continues to lose these lawsuits, he continues to use state money to pay the legal bills. In another public record dispute where Commissioner Gerald Bailey was ousted without any public discussion or vote, the cost to taxpayers was $55,000 to settle, $139,249 for Scott’s outside counsel and $225,000 for legal fees for three cabinet officials.
If these two settlements were the only lawsuits that our governor, legislature and his administration has lost, most residents and taxpayers would not mind footing the bill. But during Scott’s first term in office, he spent millions in legal fees trying to defend several policies which would hurt state residents. He spent millions on requiring drug tests for welfare recipients, which the courts decided was against the law.
The legislature has passed on to taxpayers $11 million of legal fees – as they secretly draw up maps for redistricting which still has not been approved by the courts. The ironic issue with our governor is that on his website the message is “Florida has a Right to Know.” Our governor explains this note by stating “As taxpayers, you have the right to know how every tax-payer dollar is spent.”
It is obvious that Governor Scott says one thing, but practices something entirely different. There is no way the governor can be trusted when he violates the law, and denies public access of government records to residents of the state.