Cerabino: Sansbury’s Way too colorful for Palm Beach County Commission


John Sansbury wants back in the public arena as a county commissioner.

The idea of having Sansbury with his hand on the wheel of local government again is both exhilarating and frightening. It’s like the circa 1980s Palm Beach County back from the ashes.

What’s next? Maybe we can persuade bank-fraud-artist Tom Waldron to run for tax collector.

At one time, Sansbury was the boy wonder of local government, a struggling Palm Beach Community College student who became the Palm Beach County administrator at the ripe age of 26 and then hustled his way through 10 years before leaving with a local street in his name and the template to cashing in.

The reason Palm Beach County has a law that prevents county staffers from lobbying for two years after leaving the public payroll is because of Sansbury.

After leaving his job as county administrator in 1986, Sansbury went right to work getting the county to buy beachfront property in Jupiter for what would become Coral Cove Park, a deal that got him an $84,000 commission.

Sansbury was always cooking something up.

“Give John a telephone and an hour and he could get almost anything accomplished,” Ken Adams, the former Palm Beach County Commissioner, once said about Sansbury.

After running the county, Sansbury stuck around on its fringes.

He had a seat on the county’s Aviation and Airports Advisory Board, he did a stint as a commissioner in The Port of Palm Beach, and he finagled $1.4 million in taxpayer money to be used in part to turn the Coast Guard station on Peanut Island into a posh private club with a mahogany bar for private members who paid $1,500-a-year memberships.

He was creative that way.

The last time we saw Sansbury at work in the public arena was more than a decade ago when he was identified as the unnamed developer who paid then-West Palm Beach Commissioner Jim Exline $50,000 in exchange for Exline’s help in pushing for approval of a subdivision with the city’s planning and zoning department, according to charges filed by the FBI.

To mask the payoff, Sansbury funneled the money to Exline through Provident Jewelry & Loan in West Palm Beach. The FBI charged Exline with filing a false tax return and he spent 10 months in federal prison. No charges were filed against Sansbury.

While Sansbury might be a public menace, he’s a local columnist’s dream. And so on a personal note, good luck, John.

I still remember fondly the time I wrote about Sansbury throwing a fit over a United Cerebral Palsy fundraiser.

In a motorized M-Car race for the charity, Sansbury and his teammate, the pre-conviction Palm Beach County Commission Warren Newell, were black-flagged for sending another car into the hay bales on the course in the Palm Beach Jai-Alai parking lot in Mangonia Park.

There were no cash prizes. It was just meant to be fun. But after getting disqualified, Sansbury and Newell threw a fit in front of the spectators, and then after the race Sansbury demanded a meeting with the officials and threatened in a letter to sabotage future United Cerebral Palsy fundraisers there.

“To have our brief moment of satisfaction for our efforts stripped from us for absolutely no justifiable reason is appalling, but for you to make a unilateral decision not even to discuss the action of some pompous M-Car official is unacceptable to me and my team,” Sansbury wrote.

After I wrote about Sansbury’s fit, he had an opportunity to get back at me. For an assignment in a speech class at Palm Beach Community College, students were asked to write and deliver a eulogy of any person. One of the students decided to deliver a eulogy of me and for material, she contacted Sansbury for words he might say at my funeral.

Sansbury was more than happy to help.

“He had that Napoleon syndrome,” Sansbury said about me, “because he’s such a short person, shallow person and he seemed to want to take it out on anyone larger than him, which in life, was most everybody. He used his limited size and ability to take it out on other people.”

Sansbury’s got game.

Later that year, when the county balked at accepting a 416-foot statue of Christopher Columbus on Peanut Island, I suggested that the next best thing was putting a giant statue of Sansbury on a horse.

“Hell of an idea, I like it,” Sansbury wrote, sending me photo-shopped images of him on a horse towering over Peanut Island. “It will only work if you serve as the Chairman of the fund-raising committee.”

Money and Sansbury.

No thanks. That can lead to trouble.



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