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.

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

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.

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

J. D. Alexander Gets Special Budget Treatment

Well, here we are again.  Another leader in the state budget process has slipped last minute money to a preferred recipient.  Previously, it was Ray Sansom directing money to Northwest Florida State College, something that eventually cost him the Speakership and led to an indictment.  This year, it’s Republican Senator  J. D. Alexander securing a last minute $5 million request for USF’s Lakeland campus.  

This last minute request is truly amazing in light of the fact that the state is expected to cut millions from higher education funding, and the request (at least in this dollar amount) was not part of the funding recommendations forwarded by the state’s Board of Governors.

This just serves to further highlight the fact that there is no equity in the budgeting process in Tallahassee—it truly depends on who you know.

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

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, , , , ,

Sun Should Shine on Florida’s Legislature

Former Speaker of the House Ray Sansom’s recent indictment for secret budget shenanigans during his term as budget chief in the Florida Legislature should bring calls for Sunshine Laws to apply to the Florida Legislature.  Like most people, I thought the indictment and criticism would lead to more voluntary openness in the Legislature’s budget process.  But despite that indictment and the grand jury’s strong criticism of the Florida Legislature’s secretive budget process, Florida’s legislators continue on their merry, secretive way this session.  In the meantime, the indicted Ray Sansom is weighing his return to the Legislature on a day-by-day basis.

It’s a sad state of affairs for Florida’s citizenry.

Read the Miami Herald’s 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, , , , ,

Former FL Speaker to appear before Grand Jury

The former Speaker of the Florida House, Ray Sansom (R-Destin), is scheduled to appear before a Tallahassee Grand Jury investigating his controversial short tenure as Speaker of the Florida House.  Sansom, as you may remember, stepped aside as Speaker, but retains a prominent position in Republican leadership.

The grand jury looking at Rep. Ray Sansom’s ties to Northwest Florida State College has just called its first witness of the day: Ken Wolfe, Okaloosa County emergency management coordinator.

Wolfe was in the room for about five minutes before another county emergency official, Dino Villani, was called. They are likely answering questions about the emergency operations and training center Sansom secured $6 million for in 2007. (more on today’s proceedings here.)

The grand jury began work at 8:30 a.m., with State Attorney Willie Meggs carrying a big stack of documents into courtroom 3C at the Leon County Courthouse. Meggs said the hearing could last all day.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics,

Colleges the new “dumping ground” for politicians

New legislation seeks to end the increasingly common practice of “double-dipping.”

If Floridians have to tighten their belts so should lawmakers who hold second jobs at universities and other state agencies, says state Rep. Scott Randolph.

Randolph, D-Orlando, has filed an amendment to the House budget that would force any lawmaker who got a job after being elected to take a pay cut equal to their legislative salary (about $30,000). It would apply to the 2009-2010 fiscal year only and only if the nonlegislative salary exceeds $70,000.

The target: The dozen or so lawmakers who have landed jobs at state colleges and universities (background here). “It’s like our university system has become a dumping ground for legislators,” Randolph said. “If you’re talking about small government and ‘living within our means,’ you shouldn’t be taking two paychecks from the government.”

How many Republicans (and Democrats who subscribe to the “smaller government” theory) who campaign on a platform of smaller government will embrace the thought of a pay decrease in one of their taxpayer-funded salaries? Perhaps North Florida’s own Mike Weinstein (R) could share his thoughts on the legislation? He does, after all, serve as the full-time Executive Director of the State Attorney’s Office while also serving as a State Legislator.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, , ,

Meet Florida’s New (Temporary) Speaker

Meet Larry Cretul.

The state House’s acting speaker is a low-key, little-known but well-liked conservative Republican real estate broker from north-central Florida.

Rep. Larry Cretul prefers to work behind the scenes and likes to ride motorcycles, friends and colleagues say.

Cretul, 61, of Ocala, will lead the chamber at least until a series of investigations into Speaker Ray Sansom’s connections to a state college are resolved.

Cretul is a native of Trenton, Mich., a Baptist deacon and Navy veteran. He and wife Lana have two sons and a grandson. Before being elected to the House in 2002, Cretul was a Marion County commissioner for eight years, serving twice as chairman and twice as vice chairman.

“He’s not a bombastic type,” said Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, who represents some of same areas as Cretul. “He’s a quiet professional.”

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

House Republican: Sansom’s Actions “Not Legal”

Not all House Republicans are on board with Speaker Sansom’s bid to “temporarily” step aside in his role as Speaker. Rep. J. C. Planas (R-Miami) is saying that Sansom’s actions are not legal.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , ,

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