Haridopolos agrees to CFO Atwater’s request for public meeting on SBA investmentby Dara Kam | October 6th, 2011
Senate President Mike Haridopolos has agreed to call in State Board of Administration executive director Ash Williams to answer questions about a $125 million investment after Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Haridopolos’ predecessor, asked for the public meeting.
Atwater, a North Palm Beach banker, asked Haridopolos on Thursday to bring Williams in to satisfy Sen. Mike Fasano’s demands for information about an investment earlier this year in hedge fund Starboard Value and Opportunity. Williams gave Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a bill for more than $10,000 in response to a public records request for documents regarding the investment, which was in the works for more than two years before the investment was made in April.
“It is my deep belief that you and the other members of the legislature, elected to represent the interests of Floridians, should have full and open access to information wherever it might reside throughout government, including the SBA,” Atwater wrote in a letter to the senate president.
Atwater also said Fasano should not be charged to review the documents and that he trusts Fasano to keep any confidential information in the records private. On Monday, Fasano asked Haridopolos to subpoena Williams and the documents or to order him to appear before a Senate committee to explain the investment and the public records charges.
“Being that the CFO is a champion of transparency and given his expertise in this realm, I plan to take his recommendation and hold a meeting that will be open to the public and ask the Director of the SBA, Ash Williams, and his staff to be available to answer any questions that the public or my fellow legislators may have about the investment, as well as the public records request,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement late Thursday. “Like CFO Atwater, it is my hope that this meeting will alleviate any questions that lawmakers or the public may have regarding this investment and the SBA, and the IAC may continue to conduct business.”
Acting as mediator, Atwater – who, as a member of the Florida Cabinet, is a trustee of the SBA – last month asked Williams to explain the process involved in the investment to Fasano, an offer Fasano refused.
Atwater said in his letter Thursday he respects Fasano’s position that the walk-through “was insufficient for the issue at hand.”
Fasano wants the SBA to prove that it used “due diligence” before investing in Starboard, a spin-off of Ramius LLC. Ramius’s president is a former client of the company Williams worked for before coming back to work at the SBA in July 2008. Williams told Fasano it would cost $10,750.13 for 360 hours of staff time and possibly take months to produce the documents.
At a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Attorney General Pam Bondi ordered Williams to give a more detailed explanation of the costs. Williams defended the cost of the public records request and the process involved in selecting Starboard, already in the works when he came on baord two years ago, he said. And he said his agency would provide the information to lawmakers, as it has in the past, if ordered on the condition that it remains confidential.
Atwater in his Thursday letter expressed ongoing “concerns about a troubling structural weakness in the governing structure at the SBA” made even more worrisome because the agency has been without an inspector general for six months.
Atwater has asked the Investment Advisory Council and the SBA’s audit committee look into the Starboard investment, and on Wednesday sent a letter to Williams demanding that he hire an IG before the Cabinet’s November meeting.