House Speaker Ray Sansom is in a state of denial. The Destin Republican denies there was anything wrong with taking an unadvertised job at his local college after steering millions of public dollars there. He denies there was anything wrong with a college board meeting held in Tallahassee, 150 miles from the Niceville campus. He denies knowing much of anything about how the emergency training center the college is building with money he secured is virtually identical in design and location to a hangar sought by a friend and political contributor. Deny, deny, deny.
This is the defense Sansom came up with after avoiding questions for weeks? The speaker's blanket denials to reporters and editors this week in Tallahassee are neither enlightening nor convincing. The lack of candor only underscores the need for criminal investigations by a state grand jury and federal authorities.
Sansom already has resigned effective Jan. 31 from the $110,000-a-year job that Northwest Florida State College gave him on the same day in November that he became speaker. He is shocked, shocked that anyone would dream the job could be the reward for $35-million he steered to the college as the House budget expert. But Sansom demonstrated repeatedly on Thursday that he is the one out of touch with reality.
For example, Sansom said there was nothing wrong with a meeting he helped arrange with the college's trustees last year in Tallahassee. The public notice of the meeting was published in a newspaper in Okaloosa County. But the Sunshine Law requires more than public notice. It requires minutes and a reasonable opportunity for the public to be present. There were no minutes until college president Bob Richburg created a record of the meeting this month — about 10 months after the meeting. There was no reasonable opportunity for the public to come. While Sansom claimed this week that he supports the Sunshine Law, an e-mail exchange between Sansom and Richburg clearly shows the intent was to meet with the trustees without the public.
"It's probably the only way we can do it in privacy,'' Richburg wrote.
Then there is the $6-million Sansom placed in the state budget for a college building at the Destin airport that includes classrooms and emergency operations facilities. It is virtually identical to the building longtime Sansom friend and contributor Jay Odom wanted to build on the same spot for his jets. The college is using the same development approval Odom received from the city of Destin and the same engineering firm. Its plans refer to Odom's project, and Richburg's e-mails to Sansom about the project include this one: "I have not talked to Jay and will not until we talk."
Yet Sansom said Thursday he had no idea Odom had proposed the same building, and he said he had nothing to do with putting the college building on the same site. That simply is not a credible explanation, and Floridians deserve better.