Oh, for a little honesty.
Just once, I’d like to see a high-profile public official greet his or her well-earned demise with a dose of humility and acceptance.
Instead, we got Florida Lottery Secretary Cynthia O’Connell writing a gushing letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday to brag about her accomplishments, before wrapping up by saying, without explanation, that she was stepping down in October to “explore opportunities in the private sector.”
This is a scratch-off.
O’Connell ran a scandal-plagued state lottery while taking nine weeks off for vacation last year. She also compiled almost $30,000 in subsidized travel and ran up late fees on her corporate American Express card for a variety of personal expenses, including hair salons, dental bills and Krispy Kreme doughnuts, according to records obtained by Politico and the Associated Press.
And even on those weeks when O’Connell was allegedly not on vacation or junketing on the public’s dime, she assigned her chief of staff to run the department 24 times.
But there was no mention of her hands-off leadership in her resignation letter. Instead, we got this:
“During my tenure I have had many highlights,” O’Connell wrote. “I am particularly proud of the rebrand and will look fondly on our amazing logo every time I pass a retail location or see a lottery ad.”
That’s gonna make a helluva Monster.com ad as she explores her opportunities in the business world:
“Looking for a no-show job that pays $141,000 a year, has lots of reimbursed travel and a corporate credit card that I pinkie-swear I will not abuse this time!”
O’Connell could had the chance to go out on a high note had she, instead of trying to take a victory lap, acknowledged the obvious.
She could have been like Groupon’s former head, Andrew Mason, who announced his firing this way:
“After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding — I was fired today. If you’re wondering why...you haven’t been paying attention.”
O’Connell could have penned something equally real:
“After four years of running the Florida Lottery, I have decided to explore opportunities in the private sector. Just kidding. When you work for a governor who keeps saying ‘Let’s get to work,’ you can’t take nine weeks off and expect to keep your job.”
Her vague resignation letter came hours before her office reluctantly was forced to comply with state public-records laws that revealed her corporate credit-card spending.
“If you’re wondering why,” O’Connell could have written, “you probably haven’t seen my office credit card bills.”
Gov. Scott played along with the charade, saying that O’Connell was certainly not fired. But Scott probably should have sent O’Connell on her explorations of the private sector last March, after a Palm Beach Post investigation by Lawrence Mower discovered that lottery officials had known that some of its retailers were illegally cashing in winning tickets, but did little or nothing to stop this fraud.
For years, some store owners or clerks had been stealing winning tickets from unwary customers who trusted the clerks to tell them if their scanned tickets included winners. Or some retailers engaged in ticket brokering, which is collecting a fee from winners to cash in a lottery ticket so the real winner could avoid paying taxes or child support.
The Post’s investigation showed that about 200 people were defying lottery odds over the last decade to cash in tens or hundreds of winning tickets worth $600 or more. One Pompano Beach man was credited with collecting $719,000 from 252 winning lottery tickets in a six-year span.
After the Post series, the Florida Lottery would adopt safeguards other states were already using, pull lottery machines out of offending retail outlets and make some arrests.
But O’Connell’s first reaction to these incredible winnings was to chalk it up to some people being extra lucky.
“That’s what the lottery is all about,” she said. “You can buy one ticket and you become a millionaire.”
Oh, for a little honesty.
Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post.