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Sansom Committee Disbands Following Resignation

The House committee investigating Rep. Ray Sansom effectively disbanded Monday in light of the resignation of their colleague Sunday night.

“As a result of Speaker Sansom's resignation as a member of the Florida House, further action by this committee is rendered moot,” said Rep. Bill Galvano, chair of the committee investigating Sansom. “We are without the authority to fulfill the charge of this select committee.”

Sansom's decision to resign came less than 24 hours before the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct was to begin a formal hearing investigating Sansom's dealings as budget chairman with Northwest Florida State College.

The hearing was spurred by a complaint filed over a year ago, charging that Sansom had damaged the integrity of the House by steering millions of dollars to Northwest Florida State College, including $6 million for an emergency operations center that would double as an airport hangar for frequent Sansom contributor Jay Odom, an Okaloosa developer. Sansom had also taken an unadvertised vice presidency with the college, which he later resigned from amidst criticism of his relationship with the college. He also stepped down from the speakership at the end of January 2009.

Odessa resident Susan Smith filed the complaint, though it was written largely by Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff., in January 2009. The committee began its work in August, but delays had pushed the full hearing until this week.. Meanwhile, attorneys for Sansom asked that the House push back the hearing until the criminal proceedings against Sansom could be resolved.

The committee said no, and Sansom attorneys said the Destin lawmaker could not adequately defend himself because both Odom and former Northwest Florida State College President James “Bob” Richburg were declining to testify because of the pending criminal trial.

“Mr. Odom, Dr. Richburg and Rep. Sansom all have constitutional rights and they needed to be protected,” said Gloria Fletcher, one of the attorneys representing Sansom. “Quite frankly, the criminal case had to trump these proceedings.”

Galvano said he thought the proceedings had been “very fair,” and that committee members had worked hard to ensure that.

“We are in unprecedented territory,” Galvano said. “I can't remember the last time the House has gone this far with a due process procedure leading up to a hearing. I know the committee and the members took extraordinary steps to make sure we could provide as much fairness and due process as possible.”

The committee opted to not make any formal recommendations to the Legislature as to how to improve the budget process because it did not go through with the formal hearing. However, Galvano said he might have recommendations of his own in the future.

Other lawmakers have already discussed a variety of changes to the budgeting process and how to improve transparency. House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater are also touting a new Web site, Transparency Florida, as a way to put more light on the budget.

Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, who served on the select committee investigating Sansom, said he had hoped that the hearing would have brought out information about the process and given the committee a chance to form its own conclusions on how to make the budget more accessible to voters.

“I wanted to see the evidence come out,” Glorioso said. “ I wanted to hear it. And unfortunately we didn't. He decided he was going to resign instead. So, it leaves a lot of voids as far as where in my mind, was there anything wrong or how was it wrong. Was it all perceptions or were there some other things wrong in there.?”

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