Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

FBI Now Looking Into Former House Speaker

Ray Sansom, the Republican Speaker of the Florida House who stepped aside earlier this year after being indicted on felony charges by a Tallahassee Grand Jury, now faces the prospects of an FBI investigation.  According to the St. Petersburg Times, the FBI has begun inquiring about the case and is beginning to collect documents.

The case involves an appropriation that Sansom singularly directed to benefit Jay Odom, a panhandle-area developer, and Northwest Florida State College.  Odom is a big-time contributor to the Republican Party of Florida, donating more than $1 million to the party.  He, Sansom and Bob Richburg, the former president of Northwest Florida State College, all currently face state charges.

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How to Double Dip (Or, how it used to be legal)

The state’s new law forbidding double dipping, the art of drawing both a pension and a paycheck from government, appears likely to become law assuming Charlie Crist signs it—something he has previously said he will do.  No one; however, better personifies the art of double dipping than Bob Richburg, the former president of Northwest Florida State College.  Richburg, who was fired last week after being indicted in a scandal involving former House Speaker Ray Sansom (R-Niceville), was a double dipper of the highest order.

According to the St. Pete Times, Richburg had briefly resigned from his position as president of NFSC in 2007, receiving a lump sum payout of $553,228 and a monthly pension benefit of $8,803.  Richburg was then immediately re-hired to the same position.  He continued to collect his monthly pension, kept his lump sum payout and also began collecting his new salary of $228,000 a year.  And, Floridians wonder why the state is going broke?

This situation alone perfectly illustrates why it was time for Florida to address double dipping.  More on who will be affected by the new law can be found here.

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The Rise and Fall of Ray Sansom and his Cronies

Today, the trustees of the Northwest Florida State College voted to return the $6 million Panhandle legislator Ray Sansom obtained for them secretly (less $300,000 the college already spent, that is).  They also voted to fire Bob Richburg, the college president and Sansom’s close buddy.   No punishment so far for Jay Odom who would have benfitted from the college’s airplane hangar.

Read the rest of the story here.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , ,

Former Speaker of the House Indicted

Former Speaker of the Florida House Ray Sansom (R-Destin), along with Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg, was indicted by a Tallahassee Grand Jury on Friday.  Sansom and Richburg will face a charge of official misconduct.  Richburg will also face a perjury count.  The grand jury report is highly critical of the Legislature budgeting process, beginning with the fact that once the House and Senate pass their respective budget, it goes to conference, where the House Appropriations Chair (which was Ray Sansom at the time of the controversial funding) and their Senate collegue have almost unlimited discretion over what is funded in the state budget.  By the time negotiations are finished, the members of the Legislature often have less than 24 hours to read the compromise before they are forced to vote on it and conclude the Legislative session.  The Grand Jury felt that the system, as it currently stands, is designed to allow a few powerful members of the Legislature almost sole discretion of the expenditure of state funds.

Of course, any criticism of Tallahassee politicians is unlikely to go unchallenged.  Rep. David Rivera (R-Miami) blasted the citizens that served on the Grand Jury for daring to criticize the Legislature, stating that: “If those grand jurors served in the Legislature for two years they would have come to a much different conclusion…It was a runaway grand jury.”  Thankfully, not all of the legislators have such a low opinion of citizen input.

“I think we’re a little taken aback. Nobody expected it,” said Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. Told of the report’s criticism of the secrecy of the appropriations process, the second-term lawmaker said: “I can understand where public opinion would find that type of concern.” He cited instances in which lawmakers are asked to vote on 50- or 60-page rewrites of complex bills, referred to as strike-all amendments. 

Let’s hope that, in the future, lawmakers moves reflect more of Rep. Patronis’ comments and less of Rep. Rivera’s.  Transparency and public input are vital to the political process.  Tallahassee should be taking steps to increase both, not shut them out as Rep. Rivera would apparently prefer.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , ,

Grand Jury: Keep on investigating Ray Sansom

A grand jury in Tallahassee this afternoon told investigators to keep looking into Rep. Ray Sansom and the job he took at Northwest Florida State College after securing millions in state construction money for the school.

“We don’t know where it will go, but it’s going to keep going,” State Attorney Willie Meggs said.

An assistant state attorney gave the jury an update on the Sansom case, apparently focusing today on possible Sunshine Law violations concerning a meeting between the college trustees, president Bob Richburg and Sansom last March.  [St. Pete Times]

In related news,

Jay Odom has resigned from the board of directors for Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run insurer, citing “time constraints” with his family.

Odom, 52, sent a letter to the board and Senate President Jeff Atwater announcing his resignation. Odom was last appointed to Citizens by then-Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.

The news comes on the same day the Republican Party of Florida said it is no longer contracting jet services from Odom.

Odom is considered to be a subject in the grand jury investigation into Rep. Ray Sansom’s dealings with Northwest Florida State College. [St. Pete Times]

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Sansom turns speaker duties over to Cretul

The good news:   Ray Sansom, beseiged by stinging criticism (not from Florida’s Republican legislators, though) and criminal and ethics investigations stepped down temporarily from his post as Speaker of the House for the Florida Legislature today – at least until the investigations are concluded.  The Speaker Pro Tem, Larry Cretul, will be assuming Sansom’s duties as Speaker of the House.

The bad news:  Sansom can resume his position as Speaker of the House at any time.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , , ,

Ray “I’m clean” Sansom now hires criminal attorney

Despite his protestations about being clean, Ray Sansom has hired one of the best known criminal defense lawyers in Tallahassee and elsewhere – Peter Antonacci.  Antonacci will be defending Mr. Clean in possible state and federal investigations into the dealings of the Sansom, Bob Richburg and the trustees of NW Florida State College. 

Antonacci once worked for Meggs [the local State Attorney conducting the state investigation into Sansom], handling public corruption prosecutions. In recent years, he has become the go-to guy for Republicans in trouble.

In 2002, then-Gov. Jeb Bush called on Antonacci to represent his daughter, Noelle, on charges that she had forged a prescription for Xanax.

Antonacci is currently a senior lawyer in the Tallahassee office of Gray-Robinson, one of Florida’s best-known law firms. Antonacci, like Coates, was a lobbyist before the Florida Legislature in 2008. [St. Pete Times]

If you recall, Sansom has already hired Richard Coates (mentioned in the quote above) to represent him on the ethics complaint that has been lodged against him.  Btw, the Ethics Commission found the ethics complaint against Sansom legally sufficient on Friday.  Now a preliminary investigation into the ethics charges will occur.

Sansom has repeatedly issued blanket denials of any wrongdoing, but the St. Pete Times has called him out again in an editorial today saying the only thing convincing about Sansom’s denials is the underscoring of the need for criminal investigations into the matter. 

So if Sansom is Mr. Clean, I can’t help but wonder this:  Why does he need to hire two big gun attorneys to represent him?

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

Questions still abound over Sansom jet hangar deal

While several different newspapers (including the TU) have published editorials praising the House Speaker for resigning his cushy school job, numerous questions still abound about the jet hangar deal for his buddy, Jay Odom. You know, the jet hangar that Sansom apparently is attempting to now sell off as a totally separate emergency management building at his college.  But the St. Pete Times isn’t going to let Sansom off that easy. Their editorial board has called for a criminal investigation in the matter. 

According to a St. Pete Times article today:

A year and a half after slipping $6-million into the state budget for an emergency facility at his hometown airport, House Speaker Ray Sansom led a hastily arranged meeting with local officials to explain how they might use it.

The meeting, held Dec. 10, came four days after the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau reported that the airport building was originally proposed by a friend of Sansom’s, Jay Odom, a developer who wanted to park his jets in a taxpayer-funded hangar.

Sansom had secured state funding through an account designated for capital projects at colleges, and he called the meeting in his new role as vice president of Northwest Florida State College, which will own the facility and use it to teach emergency response classes.

But e-mails show that Sansom’s Tallahassee staff helped coordinate the gathering.

“It’s CYA time,” said former Destin Mayor Ken Beaird. “They got caught and now they’re trying to justify … an aircraft hangar.”

Let’s be honest.  At the end of Sansom’s current term in two years, we all know where he will likely be – in the same cushy Northwest Florida State College job that he took on the same day that he was sworn in as House Speaker….with his friend Odom’s jet parked in the hangar.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , , ,

AP learns Sansom frequently deletes E-mails

The Associated Press (AP) recently made a request for public records from embattled House Speaker Ray Sansom and his new employer Northwest Florida State College for E-mails between Sansom and Bob Richburg, the college’s president. 

“We just didn’t find anything responsive,” Jill Chamberlin, spokeswoman for the speaker’s office said Monday.  And the AP still hasn’t received any response to their December 1st request to the college.

 According to the AP article,

the Legislature has few rules about what records must be kept and for how long. So while important e-mails sent to and from the governor are permanently archived and while even logs of 911 calls have to be kept for a year, there are no such rules for the Legislature. The Department of State even requires logs listing who entered certain government buildings to be kept for 30 days. 

And so, as it turns out, Sansom deletes his business E-mails every 30 days, with the exception of fiscal, travel and personnel records and official bills that are preserved pursuant to House policy.

Governor Charlie “Mr. Open Government” Crist still has steered clear of criticizing Sansom, as have the Duval Delegation House members. 

So much for open and honest government.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , , ,

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