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In Jacksonville, Putnam Calls 2008 Back Wages Order A Result Of 'Clerical Errors'

Ryan Benk
Adam Putnam at Mandarin Beach Diner Wednesday

Republican Gubernatorial candidate and current Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam said back wages that his family was ordered to pay to workers on his family citrus farm were the result of “clerical errors.”

Last week, the Tampa Bay Times reported the Polk County farm was ordered in 2008 to pay $1,634.72 to four workers who were paid less than the minimum wage at that time, which was $6.79. The Times obtained records from a federal Freedom of Information Act request that detailed how a civil penalty of $250 was assessed against the business for not disclosing employment conditions to workers and not keeping employer records.

However, the Putnam campaign later released a letter from the same year that said “no penalties are being assessed as a result of this investigation.”

At a meet and greet campaign event in Jacksonville Wednesday, Putnam insinuated the investigation was a fishing expedition.

“After three days of Obama regulators crawling around our lower intestine, they came up with a $250 fine, which was later dismissed,” he said. “People are a vital part of any operation and the men and women that I work shoulder-to-shoulder with in our business are the most important part of our business.”

The investigation began in early 2008, a year before former President Barack Obama was inaugerated.

Putnam also said the “book-keeping” errors were isolated incidents.

That was not enough to quell the criticism of a handful of protesters who greeted Putnam and his guests at

Credit Ryan Benk / WJCT News
Protesters from progressive-leaning group For Our Future greet Adam Putnam in Jacksonville Wednesday.

the Mandarin neighborhood location of local chain Beach Diner. Inside, Putnam said he’d protect their right to “yell” about “nothing.” Meanwhile, outside demonstrators were clear about why they opposed his candidacy.

Pat McCollough is a Regional Director for progressive-leaning group For Our Future. She said she has worked on farms in her earlier life and that the group she’s organized at Putnam’s event is focused on worker’s rights.

“He is the commission[er] of agriculture and that’s a shame that that even happened and that years later it had to be discovered and then also that he didn’t take care of, basically I would say, the working poor,” she said.

McCollough also quoted the Time’s article and further criticized Putnam for voting against minimum wage increases during his time in Congress.

Putnam seemed unbothered by the protesters’ presence and at the end of his event even jovially engaged them on his way out, speaking with McCollough for a few minutes, captured by The two traded laughs and exchanged stories about working on farms.

During his stop, Putnam focused mostly on state issues and rebuffed questions about his Republican opponents, opting to take veiled shots at GOP candidate and Northeast Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis for often appearing on national media outlets like Fox News.

“I’m focused on running the best campaign that I can run. Washington is not going to fix our problems and Floridians expect their governor to be in their neighborhood — to be in their community. You cannot run for governor from a D.C. studio,” he said.

Putnam also the Democratic field after none could give a concise answer to how much the state’s education budget was. He also criticized three of the candidates for saying the read the NY Times and not a local newspaper for their information.

Correction: A previous version of this story attributed the news investigation to the Palm Beach Post. It was the Tampa Bay Times. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.