Gov. Charlie Crist moved swiftly and appropriately Wednesday to order an investigation of the travel expenses of Frank Peterman, secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. Peterman has held the post only 20 months, but he has taken 68 state-funded flights between Tallahassee and Tampa. Since Peterman's wife and four children live in St. Petersburg and he also preaches at a local church on Sundays, the number of trips to Tampa Bay makes it appear Peterman is commuting home on the taxpayers' tab.
"You know, I like to go to St. Pete sometimes," said Crist, who is from St. Petersburg. "But I pay for it."
Crist's order followed Wednesday's report by the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau that Peterman has spent $44,000 on travel since becoming juvenile justice secretary in February 2008. Of that amount, $25,745 was spent on plane tickets. And 75 percent of the airfare bill was for tickets to and from Tampa Bay. Peterman should explain why Tampa Bay required so much of his attention.
The newspaper story also noted that Peterman's Tampa Bay flights often left Tallahassee on Thursdays or Fridays and returned to the capital on Tuesdays. That detail raises another question: How often was Peterman actually in Tallahassee working?
Crist asked his inspector general, Melinda Miguel, to examine Peterman's travel records. Peterman defended himself, saying, "I need to be out and around and see how to create better programs. ... It does require travel." Peterman said that while he is in St. Petersburg, he sometimes works out of a Juvenile Justice probation office.
To do his job well, Peterman needs to see how the 4,800 employees of his department are managing juvenile detention facilities and reducing juvenile delinquency through intervention and treatment. Some travel is certainly warranted, but not to visit his family and tend to another job at public expense. Peterman was appointed to run an agency based in Tallahassee, not St. Petersburg.
When Peterman wants to come home to be with his family and preach, it should be on his own time and his own dime.