Politics: Republican Party Chairman Greer Announces Resignation While a Succession Contest Builds
On January 5, 2010, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer announced that he would resign from his party position, with the resignation to take effect on or about February 20, 2010. Mr. Greer, who has frequently been described as “embattled” in recent months, was pressed to resign because of questions about his management of party finances and the apparent use of party resources to support Governor Charlie Crist in his primary campaign against former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R-Miami) for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. George LeMieux.
In announcing his decision, Mr. Greer accused his critics, who included several of the party’s largest fundraisers, of spreading false accusations against him, and stated that he “cannot be a participant in the tearing and shredding of the Republican Party.” According to newspaper reports, Mr. Greer said he was resigning because people opposed to his “big tent” philosophy were trying to destroy the party. He was quoted as saying that his opponents’ approach was: “Remove me as chairman, and if that doesn’t work, burn the house down and try to destroy the Republican Party.”
One of Mr. Greer’s most vocal critics, party Vice Chairman Allen Cox, announced his resignation two days after Mr. Greer’s announcement.
As soon as Mr. Greer’s decision became known, it appeared that the party would coalesce around state Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) as the next party chairman. Sen. Thrasher, who won a hotly contested special election for a Jacksonville-area Senate seat in late 2009 and previously served as state House Speaker, apparently had the support of many party leaders, including Senate President-Designate Mike Haridopolos (R-Melbourne), House Speaker-Designate Dean Cannon (R-Orlando), Attorney General Bill McCollum, former Gov. Jeb Bush, and Gov. Crist.
Election laws do not prohibit a sitting legislator from serving as a party chairman or holding other party offices, but it would apparently be unprecedented for a sitting legislator to serve as a party chairman. Questions have arisen as to how Senate rules that prohibit Senators from engaging in fundraising while the Legislature is in session would affect Sen. Thrasher’s service as party chairman. Senate Minority Leader Alfred “Al” Lawson, Jr. (D-Tallahassee) has objected to Sen. Thrasher continuing to serve as Chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee or as a member of the Reapportionment Committee in the event he is elected Republican Party Chairman.
By the time of the January 9, 2010 meeting of the Republican State Executive Committee in Orlando, at least two opponents to Sen. Thrasher had emerged. Both Republican National Committeewoman Sharon Day of Broward County and State Committeeman Mark Cross of Osceola County are mounting their own campaigns for the party chairmanship. The successor to Mr. Greer is expected to be elected at a special meeting of the Executive Committee on February 20, 2010.
Whoever is elected to chair the party will face serious fundraising issues. Some reports indicate that the state party currently has an operating deficit of $4 million, but party officials have stated that the party currently has approximately $1.5 million in cash on hand. The party’s fundraising target for 2010 is $40 million.
State Agencies: Emergency Management Director Forced Out After Complaint; Inspector General Investigation Finds Irregularities at Department of Juvenile Justice
Interim Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management Ruben Almaguer resigned under pressure on January 4, 2010 while denying allegations of wrongdoing. Mr. Almaguer was appointed to the interim post in May 2008 after President Obama appointed long-time Florida Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate to serve as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In November 2008, Gwen Keenan, Chief of the division’s Preparedness Section, had written to the governor alleging that Mr. Almaguer made questionable purchases of technology and air travel, circumvented state purchasing and hiring regulations, and was arrogant and overbearing. Mr. Almaguer met with Gov. Crist’s staff in December 2008 to discuss the allegations. According to Deputy Chief of Staff Kathy Mears, Mr. Almaguer was “encouraged” to resign. In announcing his resignation, Mr. Almaguer said the governor’s office “misled, deceived, and intimidated” him into resigning.
Gov. Crist has designated the division’s Deputy Director, David Halstead, as the new Interim Director. Mr. Halstead also is the subject of complaints. Division General Counsel Tom Congdon, who has resigned effective January 25, 2010, has filed a whistleblower complaint against Mr. Halstead, alleging that Mr. Halstead circumvented state purchasing procedures and mismanaged employees.
The Division of Emergency Management is not the only state agency with management issues. According to newspaper reports, the governor’s Inspector General Melinda Miguel has found serious irregularities on the part of Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman. Most of the irregularities involve travel expenses between the department’s office in Tallahassee and a satellite office in St. Petersburg, where Secretary Peterman lives with his family. The investigation indicates that the secretary usually spends three days a week in Tallahassee and four days a week in St. Petersburg. His travel expenses from February 2008, when he was appointed, through November 2009 were approximately $44,000, of which $23,572 went for travel between his home and the capital. The investigation also notes that his travel patterns did not change after the governor’s office ordered agencies to restrict travel to matters that were mission-critical.
Secretary Peterman, who also is Senior Pastor of the Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church, served in the state House as a Democratic Representative from 2000 until his appointment to the Department of Juvenile Justice post.
Legislature: Former House Speaker Sansom Charged With Grand Theft and Conspiracy
On January 6, 2010, Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs announced that he was amending the indictment of former House Speaker Ray Sansom (R-Fort Walton Beach), former Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg, and developer Jay Odom to include charges of grand theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft.
The revised indictment follows up on a First District Court of Appeal ruling that prevented Mr. Meggs from appealing Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’ dismissal of some official misconduct charges against the former speaker, who continues to serve in the House.
The case involves a $6-million appropriation to the college for a mixed-use facility that was designated for emergency management but allegedly was intended to serve as an airplane hanger for Mr. Odom. The court questioned the prosecutor’s theory of the case, finding that state laws cannot be “falsified.” The state attorney is now proceeding on the theory that the defendants endeavored to have the public pay for a hanger to be used by Mr. Odom, while hiding relevant facts from the Legislature.
Separately, the House Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which is investigating Mr. Sansom, will meet on January 14, 2010 to address pre-hearing issues.
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