State Attorney Jeff Ashton intends to investigate a complaint that three board members of Orlando's road-building agency may have broken the law by privately plotting to oust Executive Director Max Crumit from the job he held for nearly two years.
A string of emails obtained Friday by the Orlando Sentinel includes one from Ashton to an administrative assistant at the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority that states: "Please convey to [board attorney] Mr. [Joe] Passiatore that I have received his letter and will take action on it."
Ashton also asked for and received the phone numbers and email addresses of all five board members.
Passiatore followed up Ashton's email by telling board members he could not offer them legal advice and that they should expect to hear from Ashton or someone from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
A war of words, meanwhile, has broken out among board members. One of those accused, Marco Peña, said in a three-page letter written Thursday that he is being unfairly maligned for trying to fight the expressway authority's "old boy" culture.
Earlier this week, expressway Chairman Walter Ketcham accused Peña and board members Scott Batterson and Noranne Downs of illegally discussing Crumit's fate among themselves or through intermediaries before a board meeting.
Florida's "Government in the Sunshine" laws prohibit elected officials and members of public boards from privately discussing agency business.
Ketcham asked Passiatore to look into the matter, but Passiatore passed it along to Ashton, the state prosecutor for Orange and Osceola counties.
Peña, in his letter, said Ketcham's charge is "not only wholly unfounded and reckless, but reeks of the 'Old Boy' sensibilities that have so long marred the reputation of the authority."
Peña, Batterson and Downs last week voted to find a replacement for Crumit. They said he had to go soon because he has been looking for another job, possibly with contractors who work for the agency, which oversees a 109-mile system of toll roads.
Ketcham and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs opposed the other three board members. They argued that Crumit has done a good job and earned rave reviews, including numerous compliments from civil engineer Batterson and from Downs, who runs the Florida Department of Transportation in Central Florida.
Peña, a growth strategist at Florida Hospital who unsuccessfully ran for the state House last year, did not return a call from the Orlando Sentinel seeking additional comment. He was appointed to the expressway board two months ago by Gov. Rick Scott.
In a letter sent to Ketcham and Passiatore, Peña said "it seemed genuinely improper to me that a person [Crumit] who hires and fires every staffer in the Authority, and who can award tens of millions of dollars to the very contractors with whom he is pursuing a job search, was not even required to publicly disclose that he was presently engaged in such a private sector job search."
Peña also said he was "supremely concerned" with Passiatore's decision to contact Ashton, whose spokeswoman would not comment on the situation Friday when contacted by the Sentinel.
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