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Governor sending conflicting signals

Protesters demonstrate against Rick Scott in St. Petersburg July 1.

The forecast called for rain, but there was another reason a young woman protesting Governor Rick Scott during his visit to the Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg July 1 had on pink galoshes — they matched her “Pink Slip Rick” T-shirt.

The governor delivered a statement in the hotel’s banquet hall to attendees of the Florida Press Association’s annual convention, mostly reporters, editors and publishers.

He touted the 70,000-plus jobs the state’s added since he was sworn into office this year and said nothing of the 1300 jobs eliminated from the state’s payroll that day, including 70 or more at Northeast Florida State Hospital.

Then he took questions from the audience, and as Governor Scott does so often, failed to answer them.

For instance, he was asked about his office’s policy of responding to public records requests as slowly and expensively as the law allows, a stark contrast with his campaign pledge to increase transparency in state government. The governor answered by saying he plans to make more records available online.

Yipee.

I think it’s safe to assume our CEO governor loves saying he’s created jobs, cut spending and saved taxpayers money. But if the media attempts to verify such statements, they better lawyer up.

The governor doesn’t appear to respect the public’s right to know what its government is up to in a timely manner. In fact, his policy seems to be one of discouraging requests for public information.

So, the obvious questions become: What’s he trying to hide? Doesn’t he realize the perception of impropriety is just as bad as the real thing?

This lack of transparency isn’t limited to the governor’s office. Last month I got a dose of it from the Florida Department of Children and Families.

After news of the layoffs at Northeast Florida State Hospital broke, DCF’s state-wide spokesman Joe Follick pointed me to a web site launched to assist those affected by the job cuts. The site noticed a “transition forum” at the state hospital June 8.

I decided to check it out in an attempt to verify the state’s assertion that laid off workers would be provided resources to help them find new jobs. I arrived, unannounced, at noon and was politely asked to pull to the side at the front gate and wait for authorization to enter.

This was highly unusual. I’ve been at the hospital on numerous occasions for special events, interviews and once to play basketball in the gym, and never needed permission before.

Presumably the security guard at the gate called hospital administrators and asked if a reporter could go to the forum. And apparently, even the administrators weren’t sure.

I waited for half an hour at the gate before I received a call from Tallahassee. It was Mr. Follick on my cell phone.

He agreed that I had every right to attend the transition forum. After all, it was taking place on public property and involved public employees paid with taxpayer dollars. All he asked was that I be considerate of hospital employees given the recent turmoil over layoffs.

I was then escorted to the forum by Human Resources director Kim Hodges. She never left my side.

This must be what it’s like to be a journalist in China, I thought.

My gut told me that the 30-minute delay at the security gate gave NEFSH staff plenty of time to clear the forum of anyone who may be distraught or upset about losing their job.

At least that’s what it looked like behind the foggy veil of Rick Scott’s administration.

When I got to the forum, there were very few employees there. Seated at tables in the gym were representatives from WorkSource, a contracted career counselor with handy tips about “coping with transition,” like eating well and exercising and sharing your thoughts and feelings with supportive and helpful people; and a handful of others there to answer questions about accrued leave time, health insurance and the like.

Everything appeared to be in order, which is dandy, but what happens when the media’s not watching?

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