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Crist says no need to investigate emergency division

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist said he won't order an investigation into allegations of misconduct and misspending that resulted in the forced resignation this week of Florida's disaster planning chief.

"I think it's been dealt with," Crist said Tuesday, the day after Ruben Almaguer reluctantly resigned his post as interim chief of emergency management.

Almaguer, who had held the job since Craig Fugate left to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency in May, said he is saddened by Crist's decision.

It is unfair, Almaguer said, given that Crist in recent weeks launched internal inquiries into allegations of misconduct against two other agency leaders — Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman and Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos.

"I want this investigated," said Almaguer, 45, a former longtime fire department leader in Miami-Dade County. "And if not, I'd ask the Legislature to look into it. I am not being given the same respect and opportunity that two other agency heads are being given. I want my fair day in court because I've got nothing to hide."

In November, Crist ordered his inspector general to look into Peterman's extensive taxpayer-funded travel after the Times/Herald reported that Peterman spent $44,000 in tax dollars in less than two years.

And last month Crist waded into an odd public-records squabble by asking the state's inspector general to look into Transportation Department e-mails with the headlines "pancake," "Pancakes" and "French Toast." Critics of the commuter rail legislation that passed during December's special session said the breakfast words were code used to potentially skirt a public-records request for agency correspondence on rail issues.

The inquiries are ongoing.

Almaguer is accused by his employees of discriminating against female staffers, overstating department travel savings and making improper purchases with his state taxpayer-funded credit card.

The allegations against Almaguer, and his response to them, show that one of the state's most vital departments has been roiled for months by a divisive power struggle between Almaguer and his No. 2 man, David Halstead.

Crist on Monday named Halstead to the interim director post.

Shannon Colavecchio can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Crist says no need to investigate emergency division 01/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 10:08pm]
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