Flap over pancakes won’t stop Crist from signing rail billby Dara Kam | December 15th, 2009
Gov. Charlie Crist ordered an investigation into “Wafflegate” but his concerns about transportation officials’ possible violations of the state’s Sunshine laws aren’t keeping him from signing the bill they were writing about into law tomorrow.
Tomorrow, Crist will hold ceremonial signings in Tampa and Orlando of the sweeping rail bill passed during a special session last week.
Today, Crist acceded to Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s request for the inspector general investigation.
But he rejected Sen. Paula Dockery’s suggestion that he delay signing the bill that paves the way for SunRail.
Dockery’s fought for three years the deal in which the state will pay CSX at least $430 million for 61 miles of track in Central Florida for a commuter rail project. The state will share the rails with CSX, which will continue to operate freight on the line for less than $4 million a year.
The Palm Beach Post reported on Sunday that CSX played a major role in the crafting of the bill.
“For three years, the agency has been stonewalling citizens trying to examine this back-room deal. Given the secretive code words used to hide its communications, the agency has violated the public trust. Until the investigation is completed, I would encourage the governor to delay signing – or better yet, veto – the legislation we’ve now learned was authored by CSX,” Dockery, R-Lakeland, said in a statement.
Orlando Ax the Tax chairman Doug Guetzloe also asked Crist to hold off on signing the bill into law. Guetzloe and the state Tea Party Chairman Fred O’Neal have asked Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs to investigate the matter they coined “Wafflegate.” Guetzloe also said he will file an ethics complaint and ask Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office to look into it.
The e-mails exchanged by Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos and Deputy Secretary Kevin Thibault with “pancakes” and “French Toast” in the subject lines came to light after SunRail opponent Dockery made a public records request of transportation officials for messages regarding the rail transaction.
Kopelousos said Thibault tagged the messages with the breakfast terms as an “eye-catcher” in the hundreds of e-mails she receives each day.
A separate e-mail from DOT lawyer Bruce Conroy asks DOT general counsel Alexis Yarbrough to “discuss in lieu of e-mails” a chain of messages about whether the department needed a change in state law to broaden its powers of high speed rail projects.
Dockery was dismayed when she initially received just 121 messages from Kopelousos, Thibault and Yarbrough over an eight month period ending in late November.
After Dockery complained to Crist’s Office of Open Government – and after the rail bill she opposed passed – DOT officials handed over more than 8,000 e-mails. They blamed the preliminary short stack on human error.