TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ A pair of open government and ethics advocacy groups on Friday urged Gov. Rick Scott and Florida legislative leaders to keep and make public a now-secure and largely unused website that gives details about the budget that was developed by a private contractor at taxpayer expense.
The media-backed First Amendment Foundation and a recently formed group called Integrity Florida contended that making the Transparency 2.0 website public could expose potential corruption and waste, saving millions of dollars in the process, which has happened in other states that have such systems.
They said Florida, though, will be wasting about $5 million already spent to develop the system if a no-bid contract for the website is not renewed. It expires Dec. 31.
Integrity Florida executive director Dan Krassner said that's what may happen because Scott's office has declined to take Transparency 2.0 from the Florida Senate although lawmakers passed a new law and appropriated $2.5 million for transferring the site and making it public.
“Right now a handful of the most powerful officials in Florida know where every penny of the public's money is going and the rest of Florida is in the dark,'' Krassner said during a conference call.
Access is restricted for internal use only under terms of the Senate's contract with Spider Data Services. It has not, though, been rolled out for use by rank-and-file lawmakers although development had been completed before the 2102 legislative session began in January.
First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said she believes the website is a public record and subject to disclosure although that would clash with the soon-to-expire contract unless it's renewed and renegotiated.
“It would seem to me that public access could be negotiated into the deal,'' Petersen said.
Representatives of Scott and the Senate did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, earlier this week directed his top lawyer to review the contract to determine the body's obligations.
Petersen said she understood the governor is reluctant to accept responsibility for overseeing the website because the contract was awarded without bidding. It was signed during the administration of former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican who was term-limited out of office this year.
“What's ironic is that the Transparency 2.0 website would be shining light on no-bid contracts and that kind of activity going forward,'' Petersen said.
The two advocacy groups were given a password for Transparency 2.0 after the offices of Gaetz and Scott asked them to take a look at it. In a report completed this week, they concluded it's far superior to existing state websites that provided the public with budget and contract information including two maintained by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
Petersen said Atwater's sites have lots of information but not as much as Transparency 2.0 and they are difficult to use.
“Transparency 2.0 on the other hand connected all the dots for me and gave me some dots I wasn't even expecting,'' Petersen said.