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DOT Secretary says pancakes got her attention

by Dara Kam | December 14th, 2009

Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos said that the word “pancake” in the subject line of an e-mail from her deputy Kevin Thibault was just a way for the message to stand out from the hundreds she receives daily.

The code words were not a way to circumvent public records laws, Kopelousos insisted.

“I get hundreds of e-mails in a day and Kevin was trying to get me to look at something,” Kopelousos said. “There was nothing more, nothing less than just that. He wanted to get my attention so I would read the email he was forwarding.”

Kopelousos said her department e-mail searches include not only the subject line but the attachments as well.

The e-mails were obtained by Sen. Paula Dockery, an ardent opponent of a deal between the state and CSX Inc. in which Kopelousos has agreed to pay the freight operator at least $432 million for 61 miles of track near Orlando for a Central Florida commuter line called “SunRail.”

Dockery’s public records request of the agency included the search terms “rail,” “CSX” and “liability.”

Dockery made her request before the special session started and she submitted another one last week for the messages exchanged during the session.

She amended the search terms this time.

“Additionally, please provide me with an electronic copy of all messages containing breakfast food related words, including but not limited to: pancake, french toast, bacon, egg, cereal, waffle, grits, and sausage, sent to or from the state or personal email addresses or electronic devices of yourself, Kevin Thibault and Alexis Yarbrough beginning on March 1, 2009,” Dockery, R-Lakeland, requested.

Kopelousos and Thibault exchanged three e-mails over two days with the breakfast items as the subjects.

The messages weren’t about breakfast. The rail mails had attachments dealing with the rail proposal lawmakers approved last week, prompting Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink to demand that Kopelousos and Thibault resign.

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6 Responses to “DOT Secretary says pancakes got her attention”

  1. Lucky Says:

    Don’t everyone forget the office that conducted the search, General Counsel and her role in everything, Alexis Yarbrough.

  2. FLConserv Says:

    Really? That’s the best story they can come up with?

  3. Julie Says:

    If this is a common practice then they should be able to produce other email exchanges over the years that they used this “system”. But really, shouldn’t any email FROM Mr. Thibault get her attention if they are working on a major project? SHe can sort emails be sender and only open the ones from him with the subject RAIL just as easily as one’s with pancake.

  4. Mark Fisher Says:

    The SunRail arrangement was negotiated by Jeb Bush’s administration. Bush’s people elected to completely skip over the option where Florida paid for use of CSX track (under a federal mandate) in favor of an outright purchase and lease back to CSX. The dollars and ancillary terms are extraordinarily favorable to CSX. It is the equivalent of my selling you my car; retaining exclusive usage for 12/24 hours; shared usage for 6/24 hours and you get sole use for 6 hours.

    For this sharing arrangement: YOU pay the tag and registration fees (note: since the property is now state owned CSX no longer pays property taxes on it); YOU pay for maintenance; YOU pay for insurance and YOU pay all the other cost aspects of ownership. I pay for the equivalent of a tank of gas now and then. Oh, and YOU also kick in money for me to fix up my other rides, and YOU also pay for me to have a new garage to park them in. AND, if I wreck the car and cause damages and injuries, well YOU shield me from liability. Sweet deal huh?

    Senator Paula Dockery from Lakeland, who is now running for the Republican nomination for governor, has been the only voice of reason for nearly three years on this deal. For those who question her bona fides on this issue, her position was cemented long before she decided to run for governor. In early 2008, a year before Charlie Crist came out and disclosed that he was longing for the U.S. Senate and not re-election, Senator Dockery was saying “Hold on now. This doesn’t make sense”.

    For two legislative sessions and one special session she boldly questioned the wisdom and financial fairness of the deal. When party leaders inexplicably remained silent and steadfast, she dug for information and uncovered just how sweet a deal it is for CSX. DOT has fought her attempts to get information at every step. First, DOT stonewalled her requests for information. Then, when she made a public records request the Florida DOT made her wade through the 24 Bankers boxes of documents that it sent; apparently to overwhelm her. It didn’t.

    When House and Senate leadership found that they could not get the boondoggle through during a regular legislative session they pulled out all stops and called a Special Session with the hopes of using vague references to federal funding as part of the smoke and mirrors necessary for passage. Senator Dockery figured that there had to be some discussions being conducted between DOT and CSX that she and the public should be advised of and made another public records request in November 2009. On December 9, 2009, the day after the vote that approved the deal the DOT sent Senator Dockery a response saying that it had overlooked a few e-mails: about 5800 of them. DOT claimed that an error in the search program did not reveal all but a handful of responsive e-mails. Now we learn that some of the top agency officials were using nonsensical Subject Matter references for critical e-mails relating to the SunRail legislation that was under consideration at that very moment, but this was not done to try and hide them from view. “Au contraire”, they say. “We were trying to make these e-mails more prominent by using “code” words.”

    Right. I believe that.

    Time for a formal investigation of these parties and the legal department that apparently acted as the front man for this illegal attempt at obfuscation. If Florida is serious about enforcement of the law and wants bureaucrats to obey them, then heads should roll.

  5. Jeff Says:

    What a CROCK. It’s time to demand a federal investigation into what amounts to corruption on a grand scale.

  6. who cares Says:

    They got the e-mails, right? What kind of a lame story is this?

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