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A Times Editorial

Frank Peterman should repay taxpayers for unjustifiable travel expenses

Dual airport parking fees. Tampa hotel rooms a short drive from his St. Petersburg home. Roughly $1,800 in airline ticket change fees. That's just a sampling of a preliminary inspector general report on more than $44,000 in travel expenses by Frank Peterman, the secretary of the state Department of Juvenile Justice. The former state legislator needs to repay taxpayers a reasonable portion of this unjustifiable expense and change his ways or resign.

The report confirms that much of the public money spent on travel helped Peterman divide his work week between Tallahassee and St. Petersburg, where he remains a pastor. His defense — he says he was "reasonably responsible" with taxpayer money — shows he doesn't appreciate why he is under scrutiny. Peterman used taxpayer money to facilitate a private life that remains in St. Petersburg, though his $120,000 full-time job is based in Tallahassee.

The inspector general investigation, ordered by Gov. Charlie Crist in November after the St. Petersburg Times detailed Peterman's excessive trips to the Tampa area, shows Peterman frequently works in Tallahassee only three days a week, spending Mondays and Fridays in St. Petersburg. His Tallahassee secretary said she frequently had to reschedule flights because he overslept (he blames traffic or late meetings). And records show he often opted for costly short-term parking at airports or claimed airport parking charges for both Tallahassee and Tampa on the same trip.

Maintaining a regular schedule in St. Petersburg has also brought other expenses for taxpayers: Peterman ordered $26,000 in renovations for the department's St. Petersburg office shortly after being appointed, and he hired a part-time secretary who is a member of his church to work for him there. Nonetheless, Peterman also billed the state $785 for five nights in hotels in connection with two Tampa conferences.

Peterman has argued it's part of his job to get to field offices and see how the agency is serving the state's wayward children. He's right. But the inspector general report suggests that Peterman hasn't been traveling around the state — just to St. Petersburg.

The issue isn't that Peterman routinely works from a satellite office in his hometown. Many agency heads have done so over the years, using their own money or providing more benefit to taxpayers. Peterman has tried to mask his exploitation of the taxpayers as fulfilling some job role. It suggests a sense of entitlement and a failure to appreciate tough economic times. He should repay taxpayers and change his travel habits or resign.

Frank Peterman should repay taxpayers for unjustifiable travel expenses 01/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 6:14pm]
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