Florida agency heads have been lying to reporters, spinning like dreidels, and withholding public records since the Chiles administration.
So let’s give Rick Scott’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner points for breaking new ground with his prior restraint on journalist, author, Florida State University (FSU) professor and all-around state treasure Diane Roberts.
Roberts is an eighth generation Floridian whose family tree includes the late Supreme Court Justice B.K. Roberts, for whom the FSU law school is named, and 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Clay Roberts.
Detzner’s portfolio includes managing state properties like Mission San Luis, where Roberts had been scheduled to give a lecture this Thursday. Her talk had been trumpeted by Detzner himself in a breathless press release that sang Roberts’ praises so loudly that it might have been written by her own adoring mother.
In fact, it was the work of Detzner’s state-paid publicist Brittany Lesser and it made a convincing case for the “public and press” to come out on a weeknight to hear Roberts render an opinion on “A Dream State Environmental Nightmare and What You Can Do About It.”
The title plays off Roberts’ best known book, historical memoir “Dream State: Eight Generations of Swamp Lawyers, Conquistadors, Confederate Daughters, Banana Republicans, and Other Florida Wildlife.” The Department of State’s press release promises “a lively discourse on the environment” and lets Roberts — and Detzner — explain why.
“Native Floridian Roberts warns that ‘Wakulla Springs used to be clear as a May morning; now the water is cloudy. The St. Johns River used to be teeming with life, but now much of it’s covered in toxic algae. This isn’t just ugly, and it’s not an isolated problem. We are dirtying our aquifer. I will address how we got here and ways Florida citizens can make sure that our natural heritage is not ruined.’ “
“Diane Roberts is a very witty writer and speaker and we are pleased to have her present her views on an important topic for our state,” said Florida Secretary of State, Ken Detzner. “Despite the serious concerns of Ms. Roberts’ talk, there is likely to be a good deal of humor to keep the audience entertained.”
Detzner apparently lost his sense of humor after reading an opinion piece Roberts wrote for her hometown paper, the Tallahassee Democrat. In it, she mourned the death of former Gov. Reubin Askew, and made the case that Florida’s political gene pool has been watered down considerably in the years since he left office.
Detzner proved Roberts’ point by pulling the plug on her microphone at Mission San Luis. Also under the government gag order are Mission employees, who were instructed to refer inquiries to the Department of State’s Division of Lame Cover Stories.
Detzner’s is a doozy. As Gary Fineout of the Associated Press reported, “a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner said an ‘internal decision’ was made within the secretary’s office to cancel the talk.”
The spokeswoman is the unfortunate Ms. Lesser, whose job on Friday was to deliver a melange of mendacity about how “Roberts’ topic did not fit with agency programs such as historical resources” and was not consistent with the Department of State’s “core mission and values.”
Detzner is right about Roberts’ wit, but that, and her international reputation as a walking Wikipedia of Florida history, would not have brought more than a few dozen folks to see her at Mission San Luis.
Detzner and his “internal decision making” machinery have attracted a vastly larger Internet audience to the Department of State’s spiteful, petty “core mission and values.”
Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant. Column courtesy of Context Florida.