Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

Pam Bondi splits her schedule between Tampa, Tallahassee

TALLAHASSEE — Attorney General Pam Bondi seems to be everywhere these days — stumping for Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, schmoozing with Rudy Giuliani in Tampa or talking about health care on Fox News.

Everywhere, except Tallahassee.

A rising star in the national Republican Party, Bondi appears to be often working from a Tampa agency field office near her home, according to her official schedule, which was obtained by the Times/Herald via a public record request. When she travels to Tallahassee, it is often for required meetings of the Cabinet and state Clemency Board.

State statutes say Bondi is to reside in Tallahassee and keep her office in the capitol. She does rent a home in Tallahassee, her office says, and of course, she has an office in Tallahassee.

Still, Bondi's office would not say which days she is working in Tampa versus in Tallahassee or provide an estimate of the percentage of time she spends in each office. Her official schedule is often vague about her whereabouts.

Bondi declined to be interviewed for this story.

"Attorney General Bondi considers significant time with Floridians — rather than Tallahassee insiders — time well spent," spokeswoman Jenn Meale wrote in response to questions from the Times/Herald. "Regardless of where she is located, she constantly communicates with top staff on daily operations, reviews cases and opinions, and guides the overall direction of the office. Tampa is centrally located and allows for convenient opportunities to travel to other areas of the state and meet with Floridians."

Bondi's Tampa office is located in a black, glass building that sits in the shadow of Tampa International Airport. Employees from several divisions are at the office building — called the Concourse Center — including appeals, children's legal services, economic crimes and Medicaid fraud.

The reception desk was empty when a Times/Herald reporter visited unannounced Friday.

Bondi works from the Concourse Center most often when she is in Tampa, Meale said, though she sometimes works from a second downtown Tampa location on Kennedy Boulevard.

The attorney general does not have a state-issued car and generally does not receive reimbursements for mileage when she drives to and from meetings, including trips to Tallahassee, records show. When she has asked taxpayers to pay for commercial flights, the round-trip tickets have been from Tampa.

Bondi was in Tampa on July 23 for a meeting of the Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns. She also was in Tampa on Thursday for the campaign event with Giuliani. On Saturday, she was in New Hampshire campaigning for Romney.

Her office wouldn't say where she was the rest of the week.

Cabinet-level officials past and present have split their work between their primary residence and Tallahassee, a somewhat remote state capital with poor commercial air service.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll — who emails her schedule to reporters daily — has "staff and call time" several days out of the month from an office at St. Johns River State College's campus in her hometown of Orange Park.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam spends about half of his time working in Tallahassee and the rest traveling around the state, said spokesman Sterling Ivey. Often, Putnam works from an office in Winter Haven, which is close to his hometown of Bartow.

Gov. Rick Scott spends most of his time in Tallahassee and rarely works from his Naples home, according to his public schedule.

Bob Butterworth, a Democrat who served as attorney general from 1987 to 2002, said he sees no problem with Bondi working outside of Tallahassee. Technology makes keeping in touch with staff easier, Butterworth said, and she can focus on reaching out to the people she serves.

"If somebody just sticks to Tallahassee, I think they'd be making a mistake in this day and age," he said.

Butterworth, who lives in Hollywood, opened an office in Broward County while attorney general. It allowed him to work more frequently from home, but he says he was also closer to major population centers where the bulk of major cases originated.

"I think the statewide officeholders should be across the state," he said.

On Monday, Bondi's office announced the creation of a new public outreach Web page, which includes an online form through which people can ask Bondi to come speak to their group, and it includes a long list of groups that Bondi has spoken to in the past.

"I have always been a strong believer in communicating directly with the Floridians I serve, and I am pleased to provide one more tool that makes connecting with residents even easier," Bondi said in a news release.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Tia Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

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