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Keeping Florida's first lady and daughters safe costs taxpayers $2,500 a week

Through May 7, taxpayers have paid $57,000 to protect Carole Crist and her two daughters.

Through May 7, taxpayers have paid $57,000 to protect Carole Crist and her two daughters.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist's marriage to Carole Rome marked more than a major lifestyle change: It also meant increased security responsibilities for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

By law, FDLE must provide security and transportation for "the governor (and) the governor's immediate family."

In a year in which the agency has been forced to shed $18 million and 150 jobs, FDLE agents are providing protection for the first lady and her two children at a cost of about $2,500 a week, even though Mrs. Crist seldom ventures into the public eye and her two children attend school out of state.

The total cost of security to taxpayers so far is $57,000 through May 7. The security began last Dec. 12, when the governor and Rome were married at First United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg.

The cost of protecting Carole Crist when she travels alone so far is about $38,000, and the separate costs for protecting her daughters is about $19,000, according to figures provided by FDLE. Those totals reflect 1,121 hours of work, FDLE said.

The money includes $21,000 in travel costs, which the agency defines as including air travel, hotels, rental cars and daily per diem or expense money for agents who are on the road.

FDLE says as little as possible about its protection of the governor and his family. The agency and Crist's office have in the past cited an exemption from public records for procedures, methods or manpower levels used to keep public officials secure.

"We provide security as needed, and as we see fit, from a security standpoint. By statute, FDLE is directed to provide security to the governor and the first family," said Heather Smith, an FDLE spokeswoman.

FDLE declined to discuss the extent to which Florida agents are at the side of Carole Crist when she is in New York, where she oversees a family-owned, 100-year-old Halloween costume business and where her daughters, ages 12 and 10, attend school. Her ex-husband, Todd Rome, lives there, too.

The first lady also has lived since 2006 in one of the most exclusive communities in Florida: Fisher Island, near Miami.

"We can't discuss resource allocations," Smith said. But she said that FDLE, which has offices across the state, is able to protect Mrs. Crist by using resources in its bureaus.

The governor acknowledged that the constant presence of a security detail takes getting used to.

"I guess it makes her feel safe and secure," Crist said. "It's an adjustment at first as always — it was for me, too. But she's very appreciative of their professionalism, how kind they are and protective they are."

Figures provided by FDLE show that it cost $99,000 to provide security to former first lady Columba Bush from July 2006 through June 2007. The year before that, Mrs. Bush's security cost nearly $208,000.

Carole Crist has appeared in public only a few times in her nearly six months as Florida's first lady. Her most recent appearance was last week in Clearwater, when the governor talked about the economy with local Chamber of Commerce leaders. Before that, she participated in the annual Easter egg hunt for children at the Governor's Mansion.

Keeping Florida's first lady and daughters safe costs taxpayers $2,500 a week 05/21/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 25, 2009 5:28pm]
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