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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Under fire, Sansom quits college job

5

January

4262 Besieged by criticism over taking a job at his local college after steering millions to the school, House Speaker Ray Sansom announced moments ago that he is reluctantly resigning.

"This has not been an easy decision for me to make," Sansom said, reading from a prepared statement at the outset of a two-week special session to cut $2.3-billion from the budget. "I accepted my position at the college with pure intentions and for good reasons."

His resignation is effective Jan. 31, according to the college.

"Unfortunately, some have disagreed with my decision to work at the college. While I do not question their motives, I strongly object to their conclusions. In all my years in public service, I have sought to act in a manner worthy of the trust that the people have placed in me."

Sansom, R-Destin, took the $110,000 a year vice president job at Northwest Florida State College on the same day in November that he was sworn in as speaker. It was then revealed that over the past two years alone that Sansom secured about $35-million in extra or accelerated funding for the school as well as pushed through legislation favored by college president Bob Richburg. At one point, the two men appeared to circumvent open meeting law by arranging a gathering of the college trustees in Tallahassee to talk about a bill that expanded the school's ability to offer bachelor's degrees.

But while Sansom strenuously defended his actions, pressure mounted statewide for him to resign. Additional questions arose in the weeks that followed, including why he secured $6-million for a building at Destin Airport that was once sought by a private developer and major Republican donor, Jay Odom.

Sansom, 46, was facing an ethics complaint filed by a Clearwater man, who cited a state law says no public officer shall "corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position … to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for himself, herself or others."

The Commission on Ethics is to take up the complaint on Jan. 23.

Fellow lawmakers expressed varying viewpoints, but mostly agreed with him. "Given the feelings in the public, it was appropriate," said Rep. Faye Culp, R-Tampa.

Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said it was a "statesmanlike" move but controversy was a distraction amid a budget crisis. "I think he took the job with the right intentions. He loves that school, he loves that part of the state."

Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Brandenton, said he was shocked. "He did nothing illegal, he did nothing wrong. You're entitled to make a living in the state of Florida. We're a citizen legislature."

Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West: "It would have been a distraction because once you start seeing the (budget) cuts there would be a temptation by the public to say, 'Well, the speaker cuts our schools but here you have this other situation that helps him."

Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park: "It does away with any concerns people had. It was a very statesmanlike thing to do, to say look, 'I don't want anything to be a distraction.' "

Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise: "He was undermining himself" and it was "either this job or the speakership."

-- Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet, Marc Caputo and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

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Statement by House Speaker Ray Sansom:

"Members, before we get started I’d like to make a brief, personal announcement. Together with my family, I have decided to resign from my position as a vice president at Northwest Florida State College.

This has not been an easy decision for me to make. I accepted my position at the college with pure intentions and for good reasons. I have long had a passion for education, and I have spent decades working to expand the opportunities available to the people of northwest Florida. Given my interests and my professional experience, serving at the college was a natural next step, and it took me back to an institution that I love and without which I could not have gotten a college degree. God willing, I had hoped to still be working at the college long after my service in elected office was over.

Unfortunately, some have disagreed with my decision to work at the college.  While I do not question their motives, I strongly object to their conclusions.  In all my years in public service, I have sought to act in a manner worthy of the trust that the people have placed in me.

When I became Speaker of the House, I made a commitment to each of you and to the people of Florida that I would put this office and this institution above any personal interests of my own. I will not, and cannot, allow any controversy over my position at the college to divert our focus from serving the needs of the people we represent.

In the weeks since I became Speaker, many of you—Republicans and Democrats alike—have offered my family and me words of support and encouragement, and we sincerely thank you for that.

I appreciate your indulgence in allowing me to make these personal remarks. Now let's get down to the business of this special session."

When he was finished, Sansom was given a round of applause from fellow lawmakers.

Previous coverage:

When new employer asked, lawmaker delivered (Dec. 28)

Sansom, college have money connnection (Nov. 21)

[Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 4:11pm]

    

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