Welcome to government in the Sunshine Week!
Instituted by the American Society of News Editors, Sunshine Week is a national initiative focusing attention on the importance of transparency and pitfalls of government working in the shadows. The program first began March 2005 with grants from the nonprofit John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, an organization dedicated to excellence in journalism and community engagement.
Since Florida is the “Sunshine State,” open and transparent government in Tallahassee should be a natural.
Not quite, according to editorial cartoonist Bill Day.
In fact, with Gov. Rick Scott, Day sees it more like ScottBlock: a super-SPF sunscreen for that pesky government in the sunshine.
Scott’s record on Florida’s open-government mandates can only be described as “deplorable.” What’s more, his already-spotty first-term shenanigans reached a highpoint -– or low point, to be more accurate -– with the firing of Gerald Bailey, a Cabinet-level agency director last December.
Once the public discovered that Scott bypassed the state’s open meeting laws in ousting Bailey, who served as a well-regarded commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, it launched a torrent of outrage.
Many saw this most recent affront to transparency as the final straw.
Amid calls for a special prosecutor, the Florida Society of News Editors, Associated Press, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times joined a lawsuit naming Scott and all three Florida Cabinet members.
“It feels like there’s a real crisis in the legitimacy of this state government,” plaintiff Matthew Weidner told the Times. “You have the major players all acknowledging that something is wrong.”
In response to this obvious (and growing) dilemma, Scott and his Cabinet did what they are best at … nothing. Well, not exactly nothing.
They held a public Cabinet meeting, to examine the process of hiring and firing agency heads -– which the state Constitution requires agreement of a majority of the four state leaders.
Facing such a serious issue, the gathering took place in an oddly appropriate location — the (very public) opening day of the Florida State Fair.
Some say sunshine is “the best disinfectant,” but for Rick Scott, that same sunshine can also be quite blistering.