By BRUCE COLLIER
Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Ray Sansom, speaking on Jan. 5, delivered the following statement to the House, which was meeting in a special budget session:
“Members, before we get started I’d like to make a brief, personal announcement. Together with my family, I have decided to resign from my position as a vice president at Northwest Florida State College (NWFSC).
“This has not been an easy decision for me to make. I accepted my position at the college with pure intentions and for good reasons. I have long had a passion for education, and I have spent decades working to expand the opportunities available to the people of northwest Florida. Given my interests and my professional experience, serving at the college was a natural next step, and it took me back to an institution that I love and without which I could not have gotten a college degree. God willing, I had hoped to still be
working at the college long after my service in elected office was over.
“Unfortunately, some have disagreed with my decision to work at the college. While I do not question their motives, I strongly object to their conclusions. In all my years in public service, I have sought to act in a manner worthy of the trust that the people have placed in me.
“When I became Speaker of the House, I made a commitment to you and to the people of Florida that I would put this office and this institution above any personal interests of my own. I will not, and cannot, allow any
controversy over my position at the college to divert our focus from serving
the needs of the people we represent.
“In the weeks since I became Speaker, many of you – Republicans and Democrats alike – have offered my family and me words of support and encouragement, and we sincerely thank you for that.
“I appreciate your indulgence in allowing me to make these personal remarks. Now let’s get down to the business of this special session.”
Sansom’s decision came following a controversy over possible ethical problems posed by his status in the Legislature and his post as vice president for development and planning at NWFSC. Sansom’s hiring for that post was announced on Nov. 18, the same day he was sworn as Speaker.
It was pointed out that Sansom, as chairman of the House Policy and Budget Council in 2007, had allowed some $25.5 million to be “funnelled” to the college for development and construction. In December, David Plyer of Clearwater reportedly filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics, asserting that the college position was a reward for Sansom’s help in securing the funds, and that this was improper under Florida law. Sansom’s spokeswoman said that he has retained Tallahassee attorney Richard Coates to represent him before the commission.
It is uncertain what effect, if any, Sansom’s resignation will have on the complaint. Speaking for the Florida Commission on Ethics, spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman said that the commission cannot confirm or deny the existence of the complaint.