DeSantis doesn’t always give notice about his whereabouts, blocking media from asking tough questions

The Florida Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021. Credit: Michael Moline/Florida Phoenix

Three weeks ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that his administration had entered a partnership with Publix to dispense COVID vaccine to senior citizens through its pharmacies. It represented a major expansion of vaccine administration into smaller counties without major medical centers.

Thing is, his aides never informed reporters in Tallahassee that the event was going on — they had to happen upon it by accident through the Florida Channel or the Florida Department of Health’s Twitter feed, or wait until the governor’s daily schedule hit inboxes at 5:23 p.m.

Prior to that Publix event in Ocala on Jan. 5, the governor’s office did not give notice to the media — which helps to inform the public.

A similar thing happened over the weekend, when the governor visited four Publix supermarkets in Fort Myers on Saturday. The governor’s communications office announced the visits well past 5 p.m., after the events had concluded, via DeSantis’ daily schedule. Again, no notice was given prior to the Saturday events.

The lack of transparency is a reversion to the norm the governor’s office established soon after taking office — failure to announce planned events and releasing his daily schedule well into the evening hours. The schedules are public records that the governor’s aides are obliged to share with the public, although timing is up to them.

Neither Meredith Beatrice, director of strategic initiatives in the communications office, nor Cody McCloud, the press secretary, has responded yet to an emailed request for an explanation about DeSantis’ Saturday events. Regarding the Jan. 5 event, Beatrice said at the time that officials wanted to limit attendance in line with COVID safeguards.

But the practice handicaps the ability of members’ of Florida’s Capital Press Corps to put tough questions to the governor about matters including COVID strategy and his support for former President Trump through the messy and violent transition to the Joe Biden administration in Washington.

Transparency improved somewhat around mid-year, after Fred Piccolo replaced Helen Aguirre Ferré as communications chief last July. Piccolo stepped down at the end of the year and hasn’t been replaced yet.

The improvement was remarkable enough that the Phoenix noted it in this story. We also reported that past governors were scrupulous about getting the word out in good time. That began to change when Rick Scott, a Republican like DeSantis, entered the governor’s mansion.

Gradually, however, by the time Piccolo stepped down at the end of the year, they’d started arriving later in the day, and the trend continues.

Friday’s schedule, for example — detailing a busy day that included an early morning appearance on Fox & Friends and a meeting with Homestead Air Reserve leaders — came at about twenty minutes to five. The office did issue advance notice of a press conference scheduled for noon that day.

Thursday’s — which featured meetings with top aides including emergency management chief Jared Moskowitz and a call to Oracle CEO Safra Katz and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia — dropped a little after 1 p.m.