ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Florida agency responsible for handling child support payments is being accused of violating the state's Sunshine Law.
A Tallahassee employee for Xerox on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in Leon County alleging that the Department of Revenue held secret meetings related to a decision to award a nearly $50 million contract. An employee filed the lawsuit because corporations can't file lawsuits dealing with Sunshine Law violations.
The lawsuit also states that the department then lost recordings it made of the meetings, which revolved around which company should be hired for the next five years to help the agency process child support payments. A circuit court judge is being asked to block the awarding of the contract to a rival to Xerox.
An agency spokeswoman blamed the problems on malfunctioning equipment and said that the agency was taking action to comply with the law.
Xerox in a statement said the lawsuit was filed because after "numerous discussions" about problems with the contracting process the state "failed to address the matter."
"Xerox fully supports this claim to ensure transparency in the Department of Revenue's procurement of services for the one million Florida children receiving child support," the company said in a statement emailed by a corporate spokesman.
The lawsuit also maintains that Xerox's $48 million bid for the contract was $1.5 million cheaper than the one that was eventually awarded to rival Systems and Methods Inc. Both companies are represented by some of Tallahassee's high-powered lobbyists. Xerox lobbyists include Brian Ballard, who is a top supporter and fundraiser for Gov. Rick Scott. Systems and Methods Inc. is represented by employees of the Holland & Knight law firm, including former Republican Gov. Bob Martinez.
Mark Delegal, who also represents Systems and Methods Inc., said Xerox was "abusing the Sunshine law" with the lawsuit. He claimed the company had held onto a contract with the state for more than 15 years because of its political contacts and the lawsuit was merely a desperate attempt to get it back.
"The real story here is that Xerox has invented sham public meeting violations to try to continue to cheat Florida taxpayers out of millions of dollars and next generation technology," Delegal said in an email. He maintained that the structure of the contract with his client would result in millions in savings over Xerox.
The lawsuit is just the latest filed in connection with Florida's handling of public records and open meetings. Another lawsuit filed against Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi alleges they flouted the state's public records law in connection to a dispute over land located near the governor's mansion.
The Department of Revenue reports to Scott, Bondi and two other statewide elected officials.
"This was DOR's mistake and we expect them to fix it," Scott spokesman John Tupps said in an email.
Xerox had already filed an administrative complaint aimed at stopping the contract.
Filings in that case show that department attorneys maintained that the meetings to discuss the contract did not need to be noticed or open as long as a complete recording was made. But those recordings were "unrecoverable" because of technical problems.
Renee Watters, a spokeswoman for DOR, said the agency has asked an administrative law judge to let the department correct the error by convening a new meeting that complies with the state's transparency laws.
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