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Politics

About that e-mail, never mind

Copies of Jeb Bush's e-mails went to a private foundation, but an aide in Gov. Crist's office thought they were the originals.

By MICHAEL VAN SICKLER
Published February 2, 2007


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TAMPA - In his eight years as governor, Jeb Bush was known for his habitual use of e-mail to conduct business.

But for a while this week, the state no longer seemed to have those electronic records of Bush's governance.

When the St. Petersburg Times asked Gov. Charlie Crist's office Monday for some of his predecessor's e-mails, the staff replied that the state no longer had them.

They directed the Times to Bush's nonprofit organization, the Foundation for Florida's Future, because it had his e-mails.

This led to an obvious question: Why does a private foundation have sole custody of public records?

Florida law requires those with custody of public records to deliver them to their successors upon leaving office. E-mails related to government business are public records. Handing over Bush's e-mails to a private foundation wouldn't be legal, or seemingly in keeping with the tone of public access to government Crist has fostered since taking office.

He even created the state's first Office of Open Government to ensure the public and press have access to records and to train state employees on the subject.

"That's amazing," said Jon Kaney, general counsel for the First Amendment Foundation, a public advocate for open government that awarded Crist its 2005 annual award. "If the e-mails went, what else went?"

Wednesday, Crist's office couldn't fully explain the lapse.

"This is the first time this has come up," said Vivian Myrtetus, Crist's director of communications. "I think there was a mixup."

Myrtetus said Bush's foundation had agreed to return the e-mails to the governor's office Thursday. She said she would find out how this happened and what assurances Crist would get from the foundation that his office was getting all of Bush's e-mails.

But on Thursday morning, Myrtetus called with some news. It turns out the state had Bush's e-mails all along.

Computer technicians with the state had downloaded Bush's e-mails on disks and stored them at a remote site, she said.

They routinely did this during Bush's administration. The Crist aide who had told the Times to contact the foundation had gotten confused, Myrtetus said.

It seems the foundation copied the e-mails for a an archival project it plans for Bush, and the aide mistakenly assumed it had the only copies, she said.

Myrtetus apologized for the confusion and said Crist remains committed to open government.

"We will continue to process the public's request for records," she said.

Times staff writer Matthew Waite contributed to this report. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3402 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 2, 2007, 05:44:01]


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