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A straw poll to rank candidates seeking the presidency of Florida Atlantic University violated the state’s government transparency laws, according to Attorney General Ashley Moody.

The search committee used a straw poll to rank candidates anonymously in order to trim the pool from 60 to 20. In her findings, issued this week, Moody wrote that committee members are not permitted “to use anonymous communications with an intermediary search firm about their preferences for certain candidates when such communications are subject to the Sunshine Law and the search firm gathers such input in lieu of the members’ discussion.” 

Moody added that the law prohibits “anonymously surveying and organizing members’ input, even if those rankings are not a final vote and are only used to replace or limit discussion at a future meeting.” 

The ruling was requested by state officials who alleged anomalies in the FAU presidential search process, which has been stalled since July, when the state initially raised concerns. Experts told The South Florida Sun Sentinel that Moody’s ruling may force FAU to restart the search.

The search hit a standstill after three finalists were named earlier this year. Randy Fine, an ally of Florida governor Ron DeSantis who was not among the finalists, told the Sun Sentinel last week that the governor’s office had recruited him to apply for the job with the promise of an easy path to the presidency. Fine is among a number of DeSantis allies who have sought college presidencies in recent months—some successfully, such as Richard Corcoran at New College of Florida and Fred Hawkins at South Florida State College, both former Republican lawmakers.