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322 posts from May 2009

May 28, 2009

Tax roll drop means cuts of about $25 million expected in Lauderdale

The preliminary tax roll released today showed about an eight percent drop for Fort Lauderdale which translates to about a $25 million cut for the city, Mayor Jack Seiler said.

One option is off the table says Seiler: "we are not going to raise taxes.'' Seiler said the city likely won't cut the budget for public safety, but expect city leaders to look for other ways to save money such as reducing costs for city vehicles and a freeze on hiring.

"I'm still convinced there is some excess spending in our budget,'' Seiler said.

Sansom, Richburg, Odom visit Pruitt's college

Well before state Rep. Ray Sansom got $6 million for an airport building, he and Bob Richburg flew down to Port St. Lucie, where they got a tour of Indian River Community College from school officials and Sen. Ken Pruitt.

Tagging along with Sansom and Richburg: Jay Odom.

The trip was alluded to in an email we reported on yesterday, one that may have led to the perjury indictment against Sansom. The Destin Republican allegedly told a grand jury he did not know there were plans for Odom to use the taxpayer-funded hangar at Destin Airport.

The trip raises new questions about the Sansom-Richburg-Odom alliance. But Pruitt says has no idea what the men took away from it other than an understanding of Indian River's innovative ideas surrounding bio-tech and a public safety training project.

"I have no idea of their motivation," the Port St. Lucie Republican told the Times/Herald. "I can't tell you when they left there what was the motivation for what they did."

Continue reading "Sansom, Richburg, Odom visit Pruitt's college" »

Obama to get hurricane briefing

President Obama will head to FEMA headquarters tomorrow -- for the first time -- to be briefed on hurricane preparedness by FEMA administrator Craig Fugate and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Hurricane season starts Monday. 

Eric Draper declares for Agriculture post

Long-time conservationist and Democratic activist Eric Draper declared his candidacy Thursday for state agriculture commissioner in 2010. A 55-year-old Tampa native, Draper is the deputy director of Audubon of Florida and is a third-generation Floridian, and while he says preserving farmland is important, he plans to increase the agency's emphasis on the environment.

"It's a beautiful state. Our natural resources are important," Draper said. "The commissioner of agriculture should be Florida's top environmental steward. I see an opportunity to transform the office." A veteran environmental lobbyist, Draper worked in opposition to the offshore-drilling bill in the recently-ended session and is now trying to persuade Gov. Charlie Crist to veto a growth management bill.

Draper got his political start in 1980 as an aide to then-state Rep. George Sheldon of Tampa, and in 1986 he helped get Kent Conrad elected to the U.S. Senate in North Dakota. In 1994, he was staff director in the House Democratic office when Jim Davis was majority leader in Tallahassee. He and his wife Sheila have three children; the two oldest are identical twins.  

Former Democratic Rep. Rick Minton of Fort Pierce also has filed fund-raising papers for the agriculture post. 

-- Steve Bousquet

Who will pay $2,000 to hear Mayor Ritter?

Broward Mayor Stacy Ritter will give a ''first annual state of the union address'' at the ''prestigious'' Riverside Hotel on ''fabulous'' Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale at 7:30 a.m. June 10, according to a news release from the South Florida Chamber.

The chamber is seeking sponsorships for the event -- the most expensive is the gold sponsorship which for $2,000 buys 24 VIP seats, a plaque and company logo featured on all news releases.

Typically the county mayor gives an annual address -- for free -- at County Hall when the mayor passes the baton to the next mayor. Residents can attend the chamber event for free, said a spokesperson for the chamber, who wasn't certain whether the chamber gets the proceeds. Stay tuned.

Expect Ritter to talk about the county's discussions about cutting up to $160 million from the budget. But with four months to go before the next fiscal year, commissioners have made scant progress toward cuts raising this question: will they really cut or pick another option which could include dipping into reserves or raising taxes?

May 27, 2009

Is this Willie Meggs' 'smoking gun'?

Timesheraldsansomemail An e-mail that recently surfaced in the Ray Sansom investigation appears to have played a prominent role in today's grand jury indictment of developer Jay Odom and the new perjury charge against Sansom

Sansom got the e-mail -- subject line: "meeting with Jay" -- from Northwest Florida State College president Bob Richburg on April 3, 2007, indicating that Odom would use part of the building that Sansom was to obtain funding for.

The budget lawmakers approved a month later included $6 million Sansom appropriated for a "joint use" building to be operated by the college. The e-mail, which contains a cryptic reference to Sen. Ken Pruitt, raises questions about Sansom's insistence that he did not know about Odom’s plans for a taxpayer-funded airplane hangar and overall denials that Odom planned to use the building. (click image to enlarge)

Continue reading "Is this Willie Meggs' 'smoking gun'?" »

Prison system accused of 'sunshine' violation

Gov. Charlie Crist has made it a priority to run the "most open and transparent" administration in state history. But a former adviser to Crist is suing the state, claiming the Department of Corrections broke the Sunshine Law by mishandling a contract to provide mental health services to inmates.

Kisebowtie Attorney Chris Kise of Foley & Lardner, who served as a counselor and climate change advisor to Crist, filed the suit in state court in Tallahassee Tuesday on behalf of MHM Correctional Services, a Virginia firm that pitched a proposal to provide mental health care in the agency's South Florida Region IV prisons. Kise's suit alleges that he obtained public records showing that agency staffers began "secret negotiations" with a competing vendor, Correctional Medical Services (CMS), almost two weeks before competing vendors learned that their proposals were rejected. Kise also said the deal the state negotiated with CMS would cost taxpayers $5.5-million more than MHM's proposal.

Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil said he was confident the agency would prevail. We are fully confident that we didn't do anything that would be a problem to the state," he said. "I think the facts will bear that out to be not true." By law, McNeil said, he can't discuss the details of a contract that is "still in the throes of procurement."

-- Steve Bousquet

US Atty in Miami gets FIU dean's post

R. Alexander Acosta, the current U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, has just been named dean of Florida International University's Law School.

Acosta immediately offered his resignation Wednesday, effective a week from Friday.

Acosta, 40, will become the second dean to lead the College of Law. ''I am confident that Alex Acosta's energy and his passion for the law and commitment to FIU and our community will take our law school to the next level,'' said FIU President Modesto A. Maidique. "His connections at the national and local level and his proven leadership here at home will inspire the next generation of law students at FIU.''

Charlie Crist's tax distortion

What's a governor to do when he signs a budget with $2.2 billion in new taxes and fees when he repeatedly promised to oppose new taxes? If you're Charlie Crist, change the emphasis of the discussion.

In signing the budget Wednesday, Crist repeatedly stressed that the budget has no "broad-based tax increases." Crist pointed out that only 2 million people smoke in Florida. So the new tax they pay isn't "broad based" because there are about 18.3 million Floridians.

"It's broad based, if it's a majority," Crist said. "Clearly."

Here's what's clear: The state has about 15.6 million driver licenses and about 18.8 million motor vehicles. All of them will have to pay more.

Is that "broad based" enough?

When asked to discuss the increased burdens that drivers will shoulder, Crist said: "We have to balance a budget. And we have a responsibility and a duty here. And these people behind me take it very seriously."

Who are "these people?" Those are the legislators. So blame them for anything "broad based." Clearly.

Crist, Meek to tour 'Glades together

Now here's a rare photo op: Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, potential future opponents for the U.S. Senate, will share the spotlight Thursday on a tour of the Everglades.

The tour, organized by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, will include Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, too. A news release from Meek's office said: "The tour will launch from Alligator Alley. It will include a briefing on invasive species in parks and wildlife refuges and the attempts to trap and track Burmese pythons." The elected officials also will point to the use of federal economic stimulus money for Everglades restoration.