Grand jury sought on DOT ‘Wafflegate’by Dara Kam | December 15th, 2009
Tea Partiers have asked Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs to convene a grand jury to investigate state transportation officials’ use of code words in e-mails.
Tea Party Chairman Fred O’Neal filed a request with Meggs yesterday asking for a grand jury to look into “deliberate evasion of Florida’s Public Records law” as well as “as an arrogant disregard” of the state constitution’s Sunshine Law guaranteeing access to public records and meetings.
Tea Party activists dubbed the messages “Wafflegate” after The Palm Beach Post reported that Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos and her deputy Kevin Thibault exchanged three messages last month with the subject lines “pancake,” “pancakes” and “french toast.”
Doug Guetzloe, chairman of “Ax the Tax,” said he plans to file complaints with the ethics commission and Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office and another to Meggs.
“This is a direct violation of public trust,” Guetzloe said.
The messages had nothing to do with breakfast but instead contained attachments dealing with a rail bill later approved by lawmakers during the special session that ended last week.
Kopelousos said Thibault tagged the messages with the headers to attract her attention from the hundreds of e-mails she receives daily. She said the search engine her department uses captures words included in the texts of attachments and not just the subject lines as some other search engines do.
The code words prompted Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat running for governor, to ask Kopelousos and Thibault to resign.
The use of the code words could be considered falsification of public records, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said.
The messages were the result of a public records request by Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican who is running for governor against frontrunner McCollum.
Dockery has been an ardent opponent of a controversial deal in which Kopelousos has agreed to pay CSX Inc. at least $432 million for 61 miles of track for SunRail, a commuter rail project in Central Florida.
Guetzloe’s group organized to fight SunRail, a controversial commuter rail project that was the subject of the special session. The state is paying CSX Inc. at least $432 million for 61 miles of track for the commuter line and will share the rails with the freight operator.