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322 posts from May 2009

May 30, 2009

Why do the Dems gather at such a posh place?

Why did Florida Democrats, the party that portrays itself as speaking for the poor and working families suffering in a recession, hold its annual gala Saturday at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach -- one of the swankiest places around?

Because it's also one of the only South Florida hotels largely run on union labor.

The hotel created some interesting contrasts. When Kendrick Meek held a presser, he stood in front of a group of ordinary residents supporting him who wore blue jeans, flip flops and hand-scrawled signs. Meanwhile, Meek stood underneath a massive crystal chandelier as he spoke in the lobby over the din of music from the bar where svelte women sipped cockails and a young child played chess.

The Jefferson-Jackson dinner raised about $625,000 for the Democrats.

Dan Gelber has an announcement!

Democrats gathered at the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner talked and ate while many elected officials spoke, but the room grew quiet when state sen. Dan Gelber said "I have an announcement to make.''

Many have been expecting Gelber to officially drop out of the U.S. Senate race, leaving Kendrick Meek as the frontrunner. Instead, Gelber cracked a joke by announcing that the owner of a silver Chrysler left his car lights on.

Later in his speech, Gelber said that he is ''stepping back'' from his campaign to consider other possibilities -- which isn't much different than what he had previously said. Some party activists are hoping he will run for attorney general instead.

May 29, 2009

Jay Odom booked and released from jail

Odom Developer and major GOP donor Jay Odom was booked into Leon County Jail today and released on his on recognizance following the Wednesday grand jury indictment.

Odom, 53, faces a felony charge of official misconduct for his alleged role in Rep. Ray Sansom inserting $6 million into the 2007 state budget for a building at Destin Airport. More here.

Christian Coalition director steps down to work on campaigns

From a press release:

The Christian Coalition of Florida announced today that Dennis Baxley [former Republican House member] will be stepping down as Executive Director effective June 1, 2009.

"Over the last 18 months, we have had an exciting time building the organization and increasing communications with our members. We have produced and distributed 3 million voter guides and collaborated with other pro-family organizations on a whole range of issues. And there is still opportunity for Florida's Christian Coalition to grow in size and influence," Baxley said. "I am grateful to have had this platform to touch public policy."

Dennis Baxley is an Ocala business owner who served in the Florida House of Representatives. Mr. Baxley will be leaving Christian Coalition of Florida to work with political campaigns.

"Dennis has been an enormous asset to the organization during these difficult economic times. The Board and staff are very thankful for his hard work and leadership over the past 18 months. We all wish him well in his future calling," said Bill Stephens.

Former Executive Director Bill Stephens will serve as interim director until a new Executive Director is appointed by the Board of Directors. Bill Stephens served as Executive Director from 2003 to 2007 and has remained on staff as administrator and lobbyist.


Will Broward commissioners raise tax rate and blame it on sheriff?

For months, Broward commissioners have been talking about slashing more than $100 million from their budget to make up for declining property tax revenues, but is such a move really likely?

Simply put -- no.

Next week commissioners will receive details about a budget cut scenario that involves raising the tax rate just enough to bring in the same amount of tax revenues as this year. That would still lead to a cut -- about $45 million. If commissioners don't raise the tax rate, the cuts would be as high as $129 million.

"As hardline as some of them have been about this issue,  I don't think they go that far,'' Commissioner Kristin Jacobs said, referring to the highest potential amount for cuts.

Commissioners will also likely discuss whether to dip into $100 million in reserves or about $300 million set aside for capital projects to reduce cuts.

Several commissioners are expected to support some level of tax rate increase, but expect them to blame Sheriff Al Lamberti if they vote for it. The county and Lamberti are in a fight about how much he should cut from his budget -- so far the county has asked him to cut more than $50 million. Lamberti has proposed a budget with a slight increase that curbs growth by laying off 177 workers and shutting down several jail programs by Aug. 1. Steeper cuts would hurt public safety, Lamberti has warned.

Commissioners say he shouldn't have approved a union contract last year while he was seeking the union's endorsement that includes raises up to 12 percent.

"If the sheriff continues to refuse to reduce his budget he may cause a tax increase,'' Commissioner Ilene Lieberman said.

In an email through a spokesman, Lamberti fired back saying that Lieberman's comments are a ''ridiculous and insulting assertion.''

"Instead of making such an incendiary statement maybe Commissioner Lieberman should give a closer look into prioritizing the services of county government,''  Lamberti wrote.

Mayor Stacy Ritter said she is against a tax rate increase.

"I think the public has made it very clear they want us to live within our means,'' she said.


Charlie Crist signs worker's comp bill, vetoes auctioneering

Gov. Charlie Crist just signed the worker's compensation bill into law. Crist didn't issue a letter as to why. He did explain in a letter that he vetoed an auctioneering bill because it was too much "big gubment." Well, actually he didn't say that. It was too much regulation, etc. More here on HB63 veto: Download 63

Did McCarty's insurance deputy lie to Congress?

Coventry First LLC, a viaticals company has written a letter to Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty demanding that his office correct "false and misleading" testimony that deputy commissioner Mary Beth Senkewicz allegedly gave during an April 29th Congressional hearing.

At issue: Senkewicz said Coventry "refused to file an Annual Report for the period ending December 31, 2008..."

The problem, says Coventry lawyer Frank J. Santry's letter: "Only seven weeks earlier, on March 10, 2009, Ms. Senkewicz signed a letter [attached as Exhibit 1] to Coventry which read:

'On February 25, 2009, the Office of Insurance Regulation (“Office”) received Coventry First, LLC’s “Coventry”) audited financial statement, report of life expectancy providers and license fee. The Office acknowledges that this fulfills Coventry’s 2 obligations under Section 626.9913(2), Florida Statutes for calendar year 2008.'

Oops. Seems like a simple thing to clear up, right? Nah. It took McCarty's office the entire day to produce this response: "We have received the Coventry letter, reviewed it, and will send a response to the Senate Committee next week. Coventry’s underlying allegation in its letter regarding Deputy Senkewicz’s testimony is false."

This is the second time in as many weeks that McCarty/his office has been accused of deception. Bradenton Sen. Mike Bennett said the commissh lied to him. More here on that.

Coventry's letter is here: Download Letter to McCarty

Atwater's former bank one of weakest in Florida


UPDATE: Atwater said he left the bank in February and his campaign spokesman, Rick Wilson, said that he was never on the loan or investment committees. Rather, he worked to get new clients and customers.

Riverside National Bank is among the seven weakest banks in Florida, according to a new analysis. Senate President and Republican CFO candidate Jeff Atwater is Riverside's market president for Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Nationwide, 82 banks and seven thrifts across the U.S. failed to hold the amount of money required by regulators, according to a full set of preliminary regulatory data for banks and savings and loans in the first quarter. (the list is here.)

Gayle Harrell trying to rejoin the House

Gayle Former state Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, is trying to win back her old seat, which Democrat Adam Fetterman took in 2008.

"It is important during times like these that the people of House District 81 have a representative who will fight for their families, their jobs, and their pocket books," she said in a statement at the Port St. Lucie GOP headquarters. Speaker designate Dean Cannon attended.

Harrell, who failed in a bid for Congress, is one of several former lawmakers trying to come back in 2010. They include Jack Latvala, Joe Negron and John Thrasher.

E-mails poke hole in Sansom case

Three days after Rep. Ray Sansom first denied a taxpayer-funded college building would benefit a friend's corporate jet business, architects were modifying the plans to accommodate "multiple aircraft."

The move, complete with plans to add trench drains for airplane fluids, appears in a December 2008 e-mail to officials at Northwest Florida State College that became public only this week.

In an April 2008 e-mail, the college president affirms the developer's plan to use part of the building. "Whereas we are committed to the idea of leasing unused space back to you, we need to see how the square footage works out in the planning. I look forward to seeing you at your office at 10:00 tomorrow," Bob Richburg writes to Jay Odom.

Those e-mails and hundreds of others provided to investigators (the college claims it did not previously know about the documents) cast more light on a scandal that resulted in new grand jury indictments Wednesday against Sansom and his developer friend Odom. (story here)