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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Atwater to Ash Williams: Where is your inspector general?

6

October

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is the latest Cabinet official to vent about a senator's $10,000 invoice for requested records from the State Board of Administration, but his beef with SBA executive director Ash Williams goes beyond the steep bill.

Atwater said he is "frustrated" by Williams' failure to appoint a new inspector general, a watchdog position designed to root out waste and misconduct by state officials -- everything from insider trading to abuse of taxpayer money.

"I have repeatedly asked you to fill this position over the past few months, as have members of my staff, and I am frustrated by the lack of response," Atwater wrote to Williams on Wednesday.

Williams should present a candidate for the job to the SBA's trustees -- Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott -- before the first Cabinet meeting in November, Atwater wrote.

Ear lier this y ear,  W il li a ms suggest ed eliminat ing   the S B A ' s inspector general job. The position became    vacan t af ter Melinda Miguel lef t for the governor's offi ce . W i lliam s told the audit commi t te e  the I G' s funct io ns   coul be rea ssigned  to the ag ency 's  ge neral couns e l , am ong other positions. 

He also said the SBA had a 24/7 hotline to report abuse and nobody ever called it, illustrating the "inspector general function has been very much the Maytag repairman.''

Atwater didn't stop there. In another letter to Williams on Thursday, he said he expects the SBA to give Fasano the opportunity to review all relevant records, including those that are confidential.

"Knowing him to be a man of integrity, I trust him not to release or reveal confidential information," Atwater wrote.

Further, the SBA should not charge him for his request once it is ready for public release, he said.

Fasano had requested information about a $125 million pension fund investment and received a $10,750.13 invoice from Williams. He wanted information about the SBA's decision to invest up to $125 million of public pension money in a hedge fund called Starboard Value and Opportunity, a spinoff of Ramius LLC.

Atwater also fired off a letter to Senate President Mike Haridopolos on Thursday, advising him to hold an open meeting in which senators could question Williams and his staff about the investment and records request.

"A public meeting of this nature will also give our fellow Floridians the opportunity to hear clear and complete information from the SBA in a transparent setting," Atwater wrote.

Haridopolos said he planned to take Atwater's advice. Such a meeting could occur in upcoming committee weeks, his spokeswoman said.

Atwater also sent letters Thursday to Judy Goodman, SBA audit committee chairwoman, and Robert Gidel, investment advisory committee chairman, asking them to review how how investment opportunities are identified, investment advisors are selected and procedures for fulfilling public record requests.

Fasano, who has asked Haridopolos to subpoena the records he wants, thought Atwater's tone was "harsh" in demanding an explanation for the inspector general vacancy.

"I think that was clear," Fasano said. "It really is surprising and disturbing that the State Board of Administration that oversees $100 billion does not have an inspector general."

Atwater's letters were a turn from his comments during Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, during which he suggested letting Fasano inspect the records inside an SBA meeting room.

Scott's press office did not return a call Thursday about his stance on Fasano's invoice. Bondi on Tuesday called it "indefensible."

-- Katie Sanders and Sydney P. Freedberg

[Last modified: Thursday, October 6, 2011 8:05pm]

    

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