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A Times Editorial

Sansom resigns; questions remain

House Speaker Ray Sansom's decision Monday to resign from his controversial new job at Northwest Florida State College is a welcome development that is long overdue. But serious questions remain about the Destin Republican's funneling of millions in public money to the local college that hired him. Only a thorough investigation by law enforcement authorities can provide the answers.

Sansom accepted the $110,000 unadvertised administrative job at Northwest Florida the same November day he became House speaker. In the weeks that followed, Alex Leary of the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau reported on the extraordinary efforts by Sansom to steer public money to projects sought by both college president Bob Richburg and developer Jay Odom, a prominent Republican contributor from Sansom's home district.

Sansom preached austerity as the House's top budget expert while funneling more than $35-million to the college, one of the smallest in the state. That included $6-million for an airport facility that includes an airplane hangar that Odom had sought for his jet business. Odom has since said he doesn't plan to use the facility. But a city official and an Odom employee both said the proposed two-story college building is part of Odom's plan to prevent noise from bothering nearby homes.

Sansom has failed to offer a detailed explanation for using school construction money. He has denied knowing of Odom's involvement, though e-mails between the lawmaker and Richburg suggest otherwise.

Then there is the unusually close relationship between Sansom and Richburg. E-mails showed that Sansom, who was one of the most powerful lawmakers in Florida at the time, repeatedly took direction from Richburg, the man who hired him in November, on what lawmakers could do for the college.

Sansom remains unrepentant. He insisted Monday he had taken the college job "with pure intentions and for good reasons" but will step down Jan. 31 to prevent any controversy from overshadowing his House work. It's too late for that. His actions of the past two years repeatedly put parochial and special interests above those of the state as it entered the worst financial crisis in nearly a century. Whether it was gross negligence or something worse cannot be determined without a criminal investigation.

Sansom resigns; questions remain 01/05/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 3:50pm]
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