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A Times Editorial

Speaker should lead or bow out

Florida's House speaker has become mute. Since he took office, Ray Sansom has rarely appeared in public, provided little vision for navigating the state's financial crisis and sharply curtailed his contact with the media. If he cannot carry out the public responsibilities of his position, he should resign.

Sansom's own lack of judgment has brought him to this point. In November, on his first day as speaker, he accepted a new, unadvertised $110,000 administrative job with Northwest Florida State College. That's the same institution to which he funneled nearly $35-million in the previous two years while he was House budget chief. Included in that sum was a $6-million airport building originally proposed by a political contributor, developer Jay Odom.

What's more, Sansom and college president Bob Richburg conspired last March to circumvent the state's public meetings law to hold a quiet meeting of the college board of trustees in Tallahassee, 150 miles from the college's home in Niceville. Just last week, St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee reporter Alex Leary reported that Richburg had produced minutes on the meeting, 10 months after it occurred and only after Sansom's hometown newspaper wrote an editorial urging an investigation.

Sansom, R-Destin, has acknowledged no wrongdoing and resigned from the college effective Jan. 31. But he now faces two ethics complaints, a possible state grand jury investigation and a review by Attorney General Bill McCollum into whether the college board meeting violated open meetings laws. So he has all but gone underground, appearing only in the House chamber during the recent special session and retreating to his office before reporters could reach him.

The Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reported Monday that Sansom had little role in crafting last week's plan to deal with the state's $2.4-billion budget gap. And he is not expected to attend this week's meeting of newspaper editors and reporters where state leaders typically lay out their agendas for the coming regular legislative session.

The House speaker is one of the most powerful political positions in the state. That legislator has an obligation to publicly explain his views and decisions that affect all Floridians. Sansom's silence isn't fair to taxpayers or his House colleagues, who need his leadership to counter the power of the Senate. If Sansom won't step back on stage, he needs to step down.

Speaker should lead or bow out 01/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 6:57pm]
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