Rick Scott’s ‘dark Friday’: FDLE launches investigation into email scandal; Harris Media involved

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There just aren’t enough doughnuts in the world to make better the day Rick Scott had on Friday.

Late yesterday, Scott ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate why e-mail accounts from his transition, including his own, were deleted and whether any of the records can be recovered.

“Some or all of this e-mail data may compromise public records under the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes Chapter 119,” Scott wrote in a letter released to theTimes/Herald late Friday.

The move came after the newspapers reported Thursday that as many as 50 e-mail accounts, including Scott’s, were erased from a private company’s computer server shortly after Scott’s transition. That two-month planning period is crucial for any new governor, as hires are made in the administration and a policy agenda takes shape.

Also on Friday, the one argument Scott’s supporters could make to defend his administration – that the state was second only to Texas in terms of job creation since the beginning of the year – was undercut by news that Florida’s unemployment rate in July remained unchanged at 10.7 percent after state labor market officials revised June’s rate upward. Last month, state economists estimated that 85,500 had been created since Jan. 1. The latest update reduces that estimate to 64,300.

So much for Scott being the ‘Jobs Governor.’

All the while, Scott this week found his policies on the receiving end of numerous challenges as the governor’s calls for less government, privatization and less red tape wound their way through the courts.

Policy discussions aside, the real threat to Scott’s administration is the scandal related to what happened to the emails from the governor’s transition period.

State law carries a maximum $500 fine for violations of public records law and more serious penalties, including impeachment, for any official who “knowingly violates” the statutes.

That’s right, you’re now reading the word ‘impeachment’ in stories about Rick Scott.  Of course, with Republicans controlling all of the levers of power in Tallahassee, the spectacle of Rick Scott being impeached will never happen.  But Scott’s opponents may be able to put a few trophies up on their wall by the time the FDLE’s investigation is done.

As the Times‘ opines today, in the worst light, there are signs of a coverup. The same month that Scott’s team discovered the transition accounts had been closed, communications director Brian Burgess illogically told Bender that the Governor’s Office was not the custodian of the transition records. That would be the same Brian Burgess who has failed for months to produce e-mail he has generated as a public employee in response to public records requests by the First Amendment Foundation. The foundation requested Burgess’ e-mails in March and April, paid more than $2,600 for them by June, and has yet to receive most of them as of mid August. State law requires that public records be produced within a reasonable time period, and there is no reasonable explanation for Burgess’ willful disregard for state law and the Florida Constitution.

And what about the role played by Harris Media, the online media firm headed by Vincent Harris and where the governor’s daughter is also employed?

According to the St. Petersburg Times, “the e-mails for Scott’s transition team were maintained by Rackspace, a Texas company. The contract with Rackspace was with another Texas company, Harris Media, which handled online communications for Scott’s campaign and transition.”

Anyone familiar with online communications knows that a company like Rackspace is just the nuts-and-bolts end of the operation; think of them as a smaller version of GoDaddy.  The only reason why companies like GoDaddy or Rackspace would ever delete email accounts is if their client didn’t pay the bill — and even then they would archive all of the data before deleting any accounts.

No, the truth to be discovered by the FDLE’s investigation will show that someone instructed Rackspace to delete the accounts.  It goes to figure that since Harris Media was handling the contract for Rackspace, that it was someone at Harris Media who told them to delete the accounts.  The question then becomes, ‘Who told Harris Media to delete the email accounts?’

I don’t know what the answer is to that question, but how ironic would it be if it is the governor’s daughter’s employer responsible for the worst scandal (to date) to beleaguer the governor’s administration?

Last week, Vincent Harris accused me of holding him reputation ransom for advertising money and that I have trashed him because he wouldn’t pay.  Well Vincent, let me tell you this: there isn’t enough advertising money in Tallahassee for you to pay me to keep me, not from trashing you, but simply writing about how obviously incompetent you are.  (In fact, just yesterday, one former RPOF bigwig told told me that Harris Media’s “botching of P5 registration mechanics (was) disastrously incompetent.”

I have a feeling the botching of the RPOF’s P5 registration mechanics may be the least of Harris Media’s problems.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.