April 17, 2009

Crist on Sansom, Richburg indictment

Not long after the grand jury handed down its indictment of former House Speaker Ray Sansom and Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg, Gov. Charlie Crist said he had heard about the news, saying "that's distressing to hear."

But Crist said it's important to remember that "an indictment is not a conviction."

The governor said he has not made a decision about whether to remove Richburg from his post while the charges are still pending.

As for whether Sansom should step down from his seat, "that's an issue for the House."

--Mary Ellen Klas

February 09, 2009

Trustees defend Sansom-Richburg meeting

Northwest Florida State College trustees today sent a letter to Attorney General Bill McCollum defending a meeting set up by Ray Sansom and college president Bob Richburg.

State Attorney Willie Meggs is investigating whether the March 24 meeting at the members-only University Club at Florida State University violated the Sunshine Law. The inquiry is part of a broader look at the relationship between the college and Sansom, who recently quit a $110,000 job he took there on the day he was sworn in as speaker.

Sansom denies any wrongdoing and says the millions in construction money he secured for the school over the past two years was part of a transparent budget process.

In the letter, trustee chairman Wesley Wilkerson writes that the college noticed the meeting in the Northwest Florida Daily News "as a matter of course, with the same care and adherence to the Sunshine Law that we follow for all trustee activities."

But no minutes were taken at the meeting and the trustees on Jan. 20 approved a "record" of what took place -- 10 months after the gathering. The meeting was billed as a "legislative briefing" but Sansom was the only lawmaker invited. Open government advocates also point to case law suggesting that holding a meeting 150 miles from the Panhandle campus does not meet the law.

"Our college adheres to public notice and compliance with all sections of the Sunshine Law," Wilkerson writes to McCollum. (He CC'd Meggs). "Please be assured that our Board of Trustees will do all we can to stay in full compliance with the Sunshine Law."

February 02, 2009

Cretul takes the reins of Florida House

Housephotooriginal2752_3The House Republican caucus just voted to install Rep. Larry Cretul as the new leader, effectively stripping Ray Sansom from his job as speaker. (audio here.)

Cretul, pictured, is expected to become the permanent speaker on March 3, when the full 120-member House begins the 60-day regular session. He is technically still speaker pro tem and Sansom the speaker, but tonight's vote clears the way for the transition.

"We face challenges like Florida has never faced before ... and that is where our focus must  be," said Majority Leader Adam Hasner of Delray Beach. "Members, it is time to move forward."

The chamber was dead silent during the process, only a singular voice filling the chamber that Sansom hoped to lead for two years. At 9:11 p.m., Sansom’s resignation as caucus leader was accepted. Then Cretul was nominated as his replacement The names of each of the 74 members was called out for their vote. When it came time for Sansom, he responded like the rest: “Cretul.”

It was all over at 9:18 p.m.

“It was just surreal,” said Rep. Sandy Adams of Oviedo.

"It was something that had to be done so we can get the work done for the people of Florida," said Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City. "It was nothing any of us wanted to do I feel like I've lost my best friend."

Cretul: Let's get down to business

Rep. Larry Cretul summed up the last 96 hours in a word: "Wow"

So began his introduction as speaker of the Florida House, facing a packed room of reporters for a 1 p.m. news conference. He pledged to get on with the business of the chamber and all Floridians and promised to be a calming force. "I did not campaign for this position and I have no promises to fulfill," the Ocala Republican said.


"We are going to have to work together for the Floridians who are counting on us," Cretul said. At his right was his new chief of staff, Dudley Goodlette, the former state representative from Naples who is replacing deposed speaker Ray Sansom's No. 1 man, Mike Hansen.

Cretul said he intends to appoint Sansom to some committees but was not sure what. He said he will still consult with his friend, just as he will any representative. Cretul expects to retain the structure Sansom set up, including having two budget chiefs. A speaker pro tem will be named soon.

February 01, 2009

Galvano calls for new speaker

Rules Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, just sent a letter to acting Speaker Larry Cretul, saying that to "avoid any further ambiguity that the House should elect a new speaker and not allow Ray Sansom to remain as speaker in limbo.

Galvano urged the Republican caucus to begin a process to elect a new leader before the session starts on March 3. Galvano also declared that he would not seek the position. Full memo here.

Sansom could be out tomorrow

House Republicans plan to caucus tomorrow evening and set in motion a process to replace Ray Sansom as speaker.

Under caucus rules, Sansom is currently the "Republican leader." Tomorrow evening, he will lose that title and a 15-day deadline will commence to pick a new leader. Candidates would have seven days to file. But a two-thirds vote of the caucus could sidestep that waiting period and pick a new leader immediately.

4264 That would likely be Rep. Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, who is already acting as speaker while Sansom deals with legal issues over his dealings with Northwest Florida State College.

Even then, Cretul would not be the official, permanent speaker. That would have to wait until March 3, the first day of regular session, as a new speaker must be chosen by the full House.

January 31, 2009

Hansen likely being replaced as chief of staff

Acting House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, will need time to settle into the job and its many responsibilities. But he's already planning at least one staffing change - removing Mike Hansen as chief of staff.

Why? There could be a few possible reasons. Cretul could want a fresh start. Hansen could also be questioned in a grand jury investigation into money Ray Sansom helped get for his hometown college. That certainly doesn't mean Hansen would be targeted, only that he, too, could be distracted during the session.

The veteran Hansen is expected to get another job in the House. The word is Cretul's choice is going to be "out of the box."

Democrats question Sansom's recusal

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, is questioning the ability of Ray Sansom to temporarily recuse himself as speaker. In a letter sent today to Rules Chairman Bill Galvano, he writes:

"Based upon my reading of our rules, it is not permitted and his action should be deemed either a nullity or a resignation necessitating an election for a replacement Speaker.

Rule 1.1(a)(1) requires the house to “ choose a permanent presiding officer designated Speaker ”.  Rule 2.5 states that:  ‘ The Speaker pro tempore shall exercise the duties, powers, and prerogatives of the Speaker in the event of the Speaker’s death, illness, removal, or inability to act, until the speaker’s successor is elected . ”

These two rules together mean that the pro tempore only exercises the Speaker’s duties temporarily, until a new Speaker is elected. Since there is no time limit specified, it should be inferred that it would be for a reasonable time.  However, the Speaker pro tempore only assumes this role upon the Speaker’s death, illness, removal, or inability to act.

The first three requirements clearly do not apply. It might be argued that the Speaker has an inability to act, but I would argue that that is not the case. Instead, he might not believe he can be effective or he might want to devote more time to other endeavors, but he certainly has the ability.  As used in the rule, the term “ inability to act ” appears to imply mental incapacity and the parallel of physical illness.

If it were the case that there was an inability to act, we might have interpretation issues regarding who decides whether the inability exists and who decides when the ability returns. The rule contemplates an election of a successor in any event and it clearly contemplates a permanent replacement. Further, since it says “in the event of” and not “during” such inability, this would mean that it would be unclear as to whether the substitution of power could even be temporary.

Regardless, these questions are moot because we do not have not have a case where Speaker Sansom has an inability to act. Perhaps our rules should allow the Speaker to suspend his or her duties for other reasons, but they do not. 

Respectfully, I am asking for your opinion as Rules Chair as I believe the integrity of the Florida House of Representatives demands that we follow our rules.   

Very truly yours,

Jim Waldman

State Representative, District 95

Flashback: Sansom's proudest moment

Ray Sansom strode past the Choctaw High cheerleaders and his noisy admirers, a humble hometown hero glowing amid all the accolades.

It was Nov. 13 — five days before Sansom would become speaker of the Florida House, and the Okaloosa County Fairgrounds was packed with 500 people. They wore "Congratulations Ray!" stickers and waved flags. They ate barbecue and banana pudding.

"I hope that after these two years — these tough two years — that you will still welcome me back," Sansom said to laughter, before giving thanks to the "rock" and "foundation" of the close-knit Panhandle.

The scene, captured in a Northwest Florida Daily News video, conveys deep warmth and great expectations. Rep. Ray Sansom was, in every sense, a man in full.

But the celebration contained elements of his undoing. (story here)