McCollum: Sansom's college meeting 'very questionable'
Attorney General Bill McCollum this morning criticized a college board of trustees meeting House Speaker Ray Sansom helped set up as "very questionable" and has sent the information to two state attorneys, including one already leading a grand jury inquiry into Sansom's dealings with the school.
McCollum, who sent his letter to the Northwest Florida State College board of trustees, said he does not have jurisdiction to pursue the case himself but concluded the meeting could "easily be interpreted to contravene Chapter 286 of the Florida Statutes" that governs open meetings.
"It raises the appearance of impropriety. Whether it is or not, that's not something I can say," McCollum told reporters. Who's liable, just the trustees, or college president Bob Richburg too? "I think the college is responsible for this." State attorneys will ultimately decide that, he said.
His admonishment comes a week after the trustees approved a set of minutes created this month -- about 10 months after the secretive gathering in Tallahassee.
Sansom and Richburg worked last spring to set up the meeting in Tallahassee, 150 miles away from the college campus in Niceville. Sansom notes that he was the only lawmaker there and is not subject to the Sunshine Law.
"The community college didn't meet in private. They advertised the meeting in Okaloosa County because people in Okaloosa County wouldn't read the Tallahassee Democrat about meetings for their college," he told reporters last week.
He compared it to to delegation meetings in which members meet in Tallahassee and advertise back in their hometown newspaper. "I believe very strongly in the Sunshine Law ... I think misunderstanding of the use of the word is probably some of the issue here."
The meeting was first reported by the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau as part of an investigation into Sansom's taking an unadvertised job at the college in November that paid $110,000 a year. Sansom has since resigned the position.
Sansom and Richburg were working on legislation that would allow a handful of schools, including Northwest Florida, to offer an expanded array of bachelor degrees.
“Think about a meeting in Tall. with you, the trustees and me to talk about the proposed college change and the system questions,” Richburg wrote Sansom in a Feb. 12 e-mail.
As a public school, a meeting of the trustees must be open to the public, which requires advertising the time and place so people can attend.
The college did provide public notice, with an ad that was published one week before the meeting, in a newspaper in Okaloosa County, 150 miles from where the meeting would take place.
That was Richburg’s idea: “It’s probably the only way we can do it in privacy but with a public notice here,” he wrote in his e-mail to Sansom.
Sansom’s response: “That would be great!! We can get a private room on the 6th floor at FSU.”
When the Times/Herald requested documents about the meeting from the college in December, all that was provided was proof that a notice of the meeting had been taken out in the Northwest Florida Daily News.
The college said it had no other information, including minutes.