On April 28, 2007, Florida Lt. Governor travelled to St. Augustine with his wife and son for two days of rest and relaxation. According to the Lt. Governor’s official state calendar, the two days (April 28 and April 29) involved in this trip were “Personal Days” and he had no public events scheduled. After an investigation by the Sun-Sentinel uncovered this trip, I set out to request a number of public records from the Governor’s Office to determine whether or not the Lt. Governor had violated state law with this particular trip.
Of course, the Lt. Governor is entitled to take a weekend of rest and relaxation in the nation’s oldest city with his family—who could fault him for that? But, what was particularly troubling was Kottkamp’s method of travel. The Lt. Governor and his family travelled aboard a Florida Highway Patrol aircraft at taxpayer expense.
The Lt. Governor has now apparently agreed with me—he did violate state law.
Before filing an ethics complaint, I ordered a copy of the Lt. Governor’s official calendar. The calendar showed no events scheduled on these two days. I also ordered a copy of the Highway Patrol’s flight records—they showed that the plane was used on the 28th to fly the family to St. Augustine and on the 30th to fly the family back to Tallahassee. In addition, I searched the archives of all local media during those dates to determine if the Lt. Governor had received any press coverage for any appearances during those dates. After discovering that the Lt. Governor had not held any public events, I was led to believe that the trip (and its use of state aircraft) were a violation of Florida Statute 287.17. This Statute states that state aircraft can only be used when conducting official state business, something a family vacation hardly constitutes.
Before filing an ethics complaint, I was advised by a sage friend to make one last public records request—I needed to determine if the Lt. Governor had many any reimbursements to the state for the trip. And, of course, nearly two years after he took the trip, he did. After the media began covering his extensive travels at taxpayers expense and public records requests began to flood into Tallahassee, the Lt. Governor reimbursed the state $1,752.75 for the cost of flying he and his family to St. Augustine.
For someone looking for the Lt. Governor to face some sort of accountability for his free-spending ways with taxpayer resources, it’s a rather disappointing thing to realize the Lt. Governor was well aware of the complaints and took quick action to prevent a case from going to the Ethics Commission before he taken the necessary steps to cover up his wrongdoing. The trip was in April 2007, the reimbursement happened in late February 2009. While no ethics complaint will be filed, there is some measure of vindication in the acknowledgement by the Lt. Governor that he was in the wrong.
I will say that my first foray into obtaining public records from the Governor’s Office was an interesting one. When I made my first request for public records, I received a response from the Governor’s Office asking if I was a member of a media outlet, and if so, what one? My reply was that I didn’t believe that had any bearing on the fulfillment of my public records request. After a few weeks of back and forth, I finally received copies. When I went back to the state to wrap up the final piece and asked for a copy of any check that would prove a reimbursement, I received an e-mail stating that public records request had a cost of 15 cents per document, but that the Governor’s Office would be kind enough to waive the fee for me this one time—for a copy of a 1-page check.