Crist's Secrecy Prompts Suit

Another voice has emerged in the slowly growing movement to figure out what in the hell is really going on with Charlie Crist's $1.75 billion buyout of U.S. Sugar. The media coverage of this secretive and misguided deal so far has been laughable.

I'm no big fan of lawyer Dexter Lehtinen, but his suit alleging that the water district violated Sunshine Laws is on the mark. It's Charlie's way -- and the guv is a disaster in the making, no matter what the polls say about his popularity ratings.

Here's Lehtinen's press release:


Today, Dexter Lehtinen , a Miami Attorney who is an open government and Everglades advocate, announced that he has filed a lawsuit against the South Florida Water Management District (“District”) in Circuit Court in Palm Beach County.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Sunshine Law related to the District’s after-the-fact ratification of a Statement of Principles on a proposal to purchase the assets of the U.S. Sugar Corporation for $1.75 billion dollars.

The Plaintiff, Dexter Lehtinen , is a former U.S. Attorney for the State of Florida who filed the 1989 landmark Everglades lawsuit. He is also a former State Representative and State Senator who in the mid 1980s chaired the “open government” sub-committee. Mr. Lehtinen remains committed to open government in the Sunshine State and to cleaning up and restoring the Everglades .

According to Mr. Lehtinen: “Open government is the heart of democracy and accountable government. The public has a right to know the impact of the District’s proposal on the Everglades now. For example, the District has stopped the construction of a 16,000 acre reservoir necessary to meet water quality requirements in the Everglades now. The Everglades can not wait another ten or twenty years. It is dying now. The Everglades needs restoration now.”

The lawsuit seeks to enjoin “an unprecedented violation of the Government in the Sunshine Law, Section 286.011 of the Florida Statutes.” It contends that “during the first half of 2008, delegates of the District Governing Board...or Board members participated in secret negotiations and evaluations of a purchase by the District of substantially all assets of the U.S. Sugar Corporation (US Sugar).” The lawsuit asks the Court to find that the District violated the Sunshine Law, and its Rules, by failing to properly notify the public of its “after-the-fact” consideration of the Statement of Principles at its June 30, 2008 meeting. It asks the Court to enjoin the District from participating in closed door meetings in the future, and seeks to have the June 30, 2008 , vote declared null and void.

Says Mr. Lehtinen: “This particular case (where the public has no details and the government itself appears to be in disarray with no coherent plan) is a perfect example of what happens when plans are developed in secrecy. Had the District operated in the Sunshine, it would have been forced to answer the difficult questions about this proposed land purchase, which left unanswered threaten Everglades restoration. Some questions include: how will it be funded; is there a cost benefit analysis; how is the land going to be used; how does the land purchase fit into the Restoration plan adopted by Congress; will money be taken away from ongoing Everglades restoration and clean-up efforts; what will the cost of delay be to the Everglades from putting off projects; what private groups will benefit from the money; and what will the social and economic impacts be?”