House probe of Rep. Sansom gets under way
A five-member House committee met for the first time Tuesday to consider a complaint against Rep. Ray Sansom of Destin, the former speaker whose dealings with a hometown college and the state budget have produced an indictment on three felony counts.
After a somber one-hour session in a fourth-floor Capitol committee room, the committee recessed its work until the week of Oct. 5, the next time lawmakers are in Tallahassee for meetings. That date is a week after the scheduled start of Sansom's criminal trial. Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, cited the reluctance of key witnesses, including Sansom, to testify before the House panel with the trial pending.
After the staff summarized the case against Sansom, the select committee's first official action was to vote to hire an independent counsel to guide the panel through its deliberations. In a January complaint, Susan Smith of Odessa alleged that Sansom had, in three cases, violated House rules through his dealings with Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, which she said had greatly diminished the public's respect for the House as an institution.
The committee will review the facts and make a recommendation to the full House for action, which could range from a reprimand to expulsion from the House. The disciplinary action requires a two-thirds vote of the full House.
The committee, formally called the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, is chaired by Galvano, R-Bradenton. Other Republican members are Reps. Faye Culp of Tampa and Rich Glorioso of Plant City; the Democratic members are Reps. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach and Ari Porth of Coral Springs. The panel was appointed by House Speaker Larry Cretul in June after special investigator Steve Kahn, a former Senate general counsel, found probable cause that Sansom had violated House rules.
Sansom has filed a general denial of the charges. He is not present at the hearing, and is represented by Tallahassee lawyer Richard Coates.