Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom has not learned the first thing about handling controversy. Rule 1: When caught doing something wrong, don't try to deceive the public. The cover-up always makes it worse. The Destin Republican apparently skipped that chapter in the legislative handbook.
Sansom has publicly complained the lines are being blurred between an airport hangar sought by his buddy and a bogus Northwest Florida State College project to which Sansom quietly steered $6-million in public construction money. His buddy says he abandoned the original idea. Scheming college officials say, why, their building at the airport isn't a hangar at all but a training center. Fortunately, public records offer a clearer picture — and it isn't the one they are trying to sell.
As Alex Leary of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reported Sunday, planning documents and e-mails clearly show developer Jay Odom's airport hangar and the Sansom-funded college building at the airport are one and the same. There is only one approved site plan, and it says "hangar" on the space for the college. The college's plans refer to Odom's project and make clear there would be a thick floor for "aircraft storage.'' Destin's community development director says the proposed two-story college building next to the hangar is meant to block airplane noise. And Odom's claim that he doesn't plan to park his jets there contradicts what his own jet operation manager originally said. It is a feeble attempt to cloud the truth.
Sansom's next line of defense is that he dealt with the college, not Odom. But a series of e-mails between college president James Richburg and Sansom leave no doubt that the speaker knew exactly what was going on and kept apprised of developments as the project advanced. This was clearly a coordinated effort.
The baggage Sansom is carrying into his speakership is getting awfully heavy: A $110,000 unadvertised job at the college taken on the same day he was sworn in as speaker. More than $25-million for a student services building at the college after the original budget request was for a $1-million. Some $6-million for the college building at the airport that includes the hangar originally sought by his friend. A total five-year spending spree of $122.5-million public dollars that the college proposed and hoped Sansom would help "make it a reality.''
The load already is wearing the speaker down. His credibility is in shreds. He publicly preached fiscal restraint while privately lavished public money on the college that became his employer. He won't answer reporters' questions in the state Capitol, which can't last forever. Now he has been less than candid about the state-funded college building at the airport. He whines to the Northwest Florida Daily News that the questions about his conduct are politically motivated and "that's why people are getting more and more nauseated by politics.''
What's nauseating is Sansom's hypocrisy and his unwillingness to candidly answer for steering college construction money to an airport hangar project sought by a friend. What's equally disturbing is that his Republican colleagues in the Legislature are not demanding answers from the speaker who is tarnishing them all.