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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Record of Sansom's secretive meeting surfaces

15

January

Ten months after House Speaker Ray Sansom helped arrange a secretive meeting of his hometown college’s board of trustees, the “minutes” of the meeting suddenly emerged this week.

Northwest Florida State College president Bob Richburg sent a document to state Sen. Don Gaetz after a newspaper in Sansom’s hometown published an editorial urging Gaetz to demand an investigation into whether the meeting violated the state Sunshine Law.

“I am enclosing the 'Record of Legislative Update Summary' March 24, 2008’ that will go before the Board of Trustees on January 20, 2009 for approval,” Richburg wrote in an  e-mail to Gaetz, R-Niceville. (The original .docx is here.)

“I find the sudden emergence of these minutes to be curious, at best,” Gaetz said in an interview Thursday. "They came out of nowhere. I have not heard from him in more than a year… This just seems extraordinarily odd.”

(The document may have been created on the same day, or just days before, it was sent to Gatez. See screenshot here. Richburg told the Northwest Florida Daily News that he typed up the notes "15 or 20 days ago" to "create closure.")

The meeting was first reported by the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau as part of an investigation into Sansom taking an unadvertised job at the college last 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.

This Tuesday, the Daily News ran an editorial suggesting Gaetz ask Attorney General Bill McCollum whether the meeting violated the state’s Sunshine Law. On Wednesday, Richburg sent Gaetz an unsolicited e-mail containing the meeting notice and a three-paragraph “record” of the meeting.

It shows that it was indeed held at Florida State University and was attended by college trustees, Richburg, Sansom and one of Sansom’s top legislative staffers, Mike Hansen.

“The content of the legislative briefing included a review of college funding, the status of the state college bill, and a review of the college’s five-year construction plans,” the document reads. “No action was taken by the trustees.”

Richburg did not return a message left on his cell phone Thursday night.
Sansom also did not return a message and has refused to be interviewed by reporters in Tallahassee.

The Northwest Florida Daily News reported that both Richburg and Sansom contend that minutes were not required. But Sansom and Richburg seemed to offer conflicting views on what exactly the meeting was.

“It was one of the most productive meetings I’ve ever had,” Sansom is quoted as saying. But Richburg refused to refer to the gathering as a meeting.

Gaetz said he faults Richburg in the matter, not Sansom, because it was Richburg’s idea. “Keeping those records was not his responsibility.”

Even so, Sansom remains under intense pressure to explain his dealings with Richburg and the college — pressure that remains despite his recent announcement that he would resign from the job effective Jan. 31.

Next week, the Florida Commission on Ethics could take up a complaint filed against Sansom by a Clearwater man. And a state attorney in Tallahassee said he will ask a grand jury this month whether he should launch a criminal investigation.

[Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 4:13pm]

    

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