Incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos has issued a scathing letter to Department of Management Services Secretary Linda South, following Tuesday’s release of an audit detailing “runaway spending” on the soon to be completed 1st District Court of Appeal at Southwood in Tallahassee. The report, commissioned in August by Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, found 17 violations of Florida Statutes with regard to bookkeeping practices and administrative oversight, and Sen. Haridopolos lays the blame for the errors with Secretary South:

After reviewing the recent audit of the new First District Court of Appeal courthouse conducted by the state’s chief financial officer, I have serious concerns that you have violated the trust placed upon you as secretary of the Department of Management Services.

The audit details a project with runaway spending for extravagant items that have no place in a government building. Even though the audit acknowledges the active involvement of First DCA judges, Florida law places sole responsibility for construction of this new courthouse on your agency.

Two findings in the audit are especially troubling to me: handing statutory control of the construction over to another entity; and “rent” from the building occupancy will not be enough to pay for the bonded debt service, requiring additional state resources to pay for this building.

Because of your irresponsible oversight, which has clearly wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, I call on you to submit your immediate resignation as Secretary of the Department of Management Services. You have failed to provide proper leadership and the abdication of your responsibilities has further weakened the public’s trust that their elected and appointed leaders will use their money wisely.

Tallahassee’s “Taj Mahal” courthouse has been a political hot potato since the issue began making headlines in August after an investigation by the St. Petersburg Times, with Marco Rubio’s name at the top of the building committee’s list of “heroes” who’d apparently been particularly helpful in obtaining funding for the project, as well as Gov. Crist and CFO Sink having personally approved the sale of more than $37 million in bonds to fund the bulk of the construction in 2008. All three have denied knowing the particulars of the building plans and have worked to distance themselves from the debacle.

Haridopolos himself voted in favor of the last-minute amendment to a 2007 transportation appropriations bill that included language approving the sale of bonds for the courthouse.

Secretary South could not be reached for comment.

View the letter in full here (.pdf).

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