TALLAHASSEE — Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has ordered her office to "conduct a thorough and immediate review'' of her use of the state plane after questions were raised about whether the plane was used strictly for official duties.
A review of state flight records by the Times/Herald found that Sink, a Democrat, and Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican, have used state planes to give them convenient access to their Central Florida homes.
Sink has occasionally also used a state plane to pick up or drop off a family member, although she reimbursed the state for the cost of the flights. She once had the plane drop her off in Fort Lauderdale so she could catch a flight to the Bahamas for a vacation. She also frequently schedules official events in her hometown on Fridays and Mondays, using the plane to get back and forth from Tallahassee.
Sink and McCollum are running for governor in 2010.
The Times/Herald review found that of the 44 times Sink diverted the plane to bring her to Tampa in the last 2 1/2 years, she had official events scheduled in the same city 30 of those days.
McCollum used the plane less frequently. Of the 53 times the plane flew to Sanford for McCollum — Sanford is the closest airport to his home — he only occasionally had events scheduled in the area.
The Department of Management Services charged Sink's department a total of $9,108 to divert flights to Tampa — and once to Fort Lauderdale — when she had no official events scheduled there. McCollum's department was charged $14,686 for his flights in and out of the Sanford airport closest to his Longwood home when he had no official events there.
The Times/Herald calculated the cost of diverting the flights to a Cabinet member's hometown this way: the cost of the trip, minus what the trip would have cost if they'd returned directly to Tallahassee.
One example of a flight diversion: Sink's calendar entry for March 7, 2008, shows her taking the state plane to Miami where she had a business meeting, a tour at Florida International University and a speech to the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at American Airlines Arena.
Flight logs for that day show she then flew on a state plane from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, where she caught a Continental Airlines flight to Marsh Harbour, the Bahamas, where her family owns a share of a resort condominium. She had no state business in Fort Lauderdale. The flight cost her department $248.
The Department of Management Services, which manages the state aircraft pool, requires that Cabinet officials use the plane for official business but the department rarely challenges their decisions, said Cathy Schroeder, DMS spokeswoman.
There is no state policy prohibiting Cabinet officers from using the plane to transport them to their home when they are returning or arriving from an official event. But Senate budget chief, Sen. J.D. Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican, has raised questions about the elected officials' scheduling events near home on weekends so they can get a ride home.
To check whether a flight was for official business, the Times/Herald matched flight manifests with the official calendars of Sink and McCollum to determine which flights corresponded with official business. Sink produced an electronic version of her calendar over a 2 1/2 year period at no charge, but McCollum said it would cost $762.92 for the same information from his office.
McCollum's office by law is responsible for ensuring access to public records and public meetings. His office requested a $500 deposit before the Times/Herald could obtain his official calendar. The cost included an attorney to remove legally exempt information such as cell phone numbers and home addresses of law enforcement officials.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.