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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

New affidavits contradict Sansom claim about college job



Ray Sansom's lawyer has denied that he would have had authority over a "leadership institute" at Northwest Florida State College -- a project Sansom made happen by quietly inserting more than $8 million into the 2008 budget -- but new affidavits from two college officials say the opposite.

"When Representative Sansom was hired, I was told that he would have some supervisory authority over my work with the Leadership Institute and that I would be reporting directly to Representative Sansom as well as to the president," employee Julie Cotton said in an affidavit obtained for the House case against Sansom, R-Destin.

"After he was hired," Cotton added, "I met with Representative Sansom in his capacity as one of my supervisors."

A senior vice president, Jill White, also said Sansom would have overseen the institute as part of his $110,000 job as vice president of development and planning. "The meetings I attended and conversations that transpired in my presence after Representative Sansom began working at the college corroborated my understanding of his oversight role with respect to the Leadership Institute."

The budget maneuvering to fund the leadership institute has been overshadowed by the $6 million Sansom got a year earlier for a building at Destin Airport but it involves more money and raised questions whether a quid pro quo was at work.

Steve Kahn, the lawyer hired by the House to investigate Sansom's dealings with the college, concluded: "The method he used to create, fund and plan for construction of a facility to house the Leadership Institute at that college, over which he would have continuing supervisory control and oversight could reasonably have caused (the public) to lose faith and confidence in the integrity of the Florida House."

Sansom and his lawyer deny that. (The man Sansom replaced, Jim Chitwood, recently told the Northwest Florida Daily News that he was nudged into retirement by ex-college president and alleged Sansom co-conspirator Bob Richburg. Chitwood is a potential witness in the House case.)

In a November response to the House, Sansom's now-former lawyer, Richard Coates, stated that the lawmaker "had no supervisory authority or control over the leadership institute."

Coates said an organizational chart shows a different position -- vice president of community relations & workforce development -- having oversight and pointed to a college news release about Sansom's job that does not mention the institute.

"To conclude that Rep. Sansom would have continuing supervisory control and oversight of the leadership institute is speculative and a distortion of the facts," Coates wrote.

Now comes the two affidavits showing that Sansom would have indeed had oversight.

The five-member House panel was to begin the Sansom case on Jan. 25, but last week Coates said he could no longer represent Sansom because of conflicts with some potential witnesses. The panel has a status update this Thursday.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 1:15pm]


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