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322 posts from May 2009

May 07, 2009

Broward Mayor Ritter splits with aide

Justin Flippen has left his position in Broward Mayor Stacy Ritter's office for a job at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau which he will start Monday.

Flippen worked on Ritter's 2006 campaign and then was hired by her office after she won. Since then, he was elected to the Wilton Manors City Commission where he now serves as Vice Mayor. Wilton Manors is not in Ritter's district.

"I suggested that it was maybe time for Justin to move on,'' Ritter said. "Maybe working as an aide to a county commissioner when you are a city commissioner is kind of awkward.''

Ritter, who is guiding commissioners as they are looking for ways to cut up to $160 million from the budget, said she has no plans to replace Flippen.

"I don't think that I need three fulltime aides,'' she said.

 Flippen, a former president of the gay Dolphin Democrats, said that he and Ritter talked last year when he was running for office that he would eventually find another job.

"We knew it would present unique circumstances for a city official to work for a county official,'' Flippen said.

Ritter didn't ask the bureau to hire Flippen, said Nicki Grossman, bureau president. Grossman said she was meeting with Flippen a couple months ago to discuss tourism matters when he expressed an interest in a job.

Flippen will promote Broward as a tourist destination at trade shows, Grossman said.

"He is a city commissioner in a city that has become very important to our tourism product,'' she said. "I don't know that he needed special destination experience.''

More piling on Vitter

First the White House called Sen. David Vittter's blocking of FEMA nominee Craig Fugate "political posturing." Then the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which would like to take Vitter's  Senate seat, suggested the move "proves he’s an out of the mainstream extremist, out of touch with Louisianans."

Now a conservative think tank is chastizing Vitter, calling Fugate "superbly qualified to head FEMA.

"He’s a respected professional with tons of experience. He understands that a good disaster-relief involves helping people help themselves—not just handing out money," Eli Lehrer, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute said of Florida's Fugate. "It’s unfortunate, to say the least, that members of the Senate have chosen to hold his nomination hostage in the name of narrow regional interests."

Top Gun Jeff Kottkamp's error

Pretend for a second you're the Lt. Governor of the fourth-most populous state in the nation with one of the worst economies. But as people's finances deteriorated, you suggested the media was hyping the troubles. And you used the taxpayer-supplied state plane to shuttle back and forth from Tallahassee to your home in Fort Myers. And you get rapped for it. Then you have an FHP guard drive you back and forth from home and the Capitol.And you get rapped for it.

What don't you then do? You don't take your family on a taxpayer supported drive to Atlanta. You don't go there for the birthday of a man who lobbies on behalf of a host of special interests. And most importantly: You don't go to see Kenny Loggins.

Kenny freakin' Loggins? Yup. Forget about the awful image of the 80s. The guy who gets heat for flying around the state goes to a concert of the guy who did a song for a movie about flying around: Top Gun. Chorus: "Highway to the danger zone." So true, politically. Especially if an FHP guard is behind the wheel.

A big beneficiary from Kottkamp's latest travel travails: State Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. She has been on a crusade over saving taxpayers money. Such a crusade that she spent $2,400 to fly to a news conference.. to say she's saving money.

Jeff Kottkamp goes the distance for Kenny Loggins

At a time when he faces an ethics complaint over state-paid travel, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp had a state trooper drive him and his family to suburban Atlanta last weekend for a surprise birthday party for a Tallahassee lobbyist.

In a state-owned vehicle, Kottkamp and his wife joined lobbyist Steve Metz and family members at a Saturday night concert in Peachtree City, Ga., featuring soft-rock singer Kenny Loggins.

Kottkamp said the taxpayer-funded drive was legitimate and noted that the law requires the Florida Highway Patrol to provide security protection for him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More here.

A taxpayer bill for Sink's frugal promotion

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink put her fiscal watchdog image on display Monday in the state's largest TV market.

''Floridians expect us to spend their money wisely and efficiently as possible, and I will continue to lead by example in these tough economic times,'' she said in a news release for the visit to a call center in Largo that had been consolidated with others to save an estimaged $2.2 million annually.

But delivering the message was not cheap. The taxpayer tab for flying Sink and three staffers on a state plane: $2,400.

The trip, billed by her office as a ribbon cutting, is no different than similar ones that Gov. Charlie Crist or other top elected officials make regularly. Read more here.

With gamble deal cooked, Seminoles say they hope to accept it

Crist, Osceola, Shore As Florida lawmakers put the final touches on a gambling compact and parimutuel agreement, Seminole leader Max B. Osceola Jr. said he was awaiting the legislation -- due out this morning -- but was optimistic.

At 10:10 p.m. last night, Osceola released the following statement:

“We sincerely appreciate the tireless efforts by the Governor and the  leaders of the Florida Legislature to agree on the terms of a bill.  With this agreement, the Governor can now finalize a Compact with the 
Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Photo: Gov. Charlie Crist, Tribal leader Max Osceola, Tribe lawyer Jim Shore at the House/Senate conference committee Wednesday.

Bagel Bar West makes CQ Politics

In a story that recounts Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's "beef" with prices at the House cafeterias.

At a hearing of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee that she chairs, CQ Politics reports the Weston Dem "griped that food prices were shooting up too fast at the eateries run by the House of Representatives.

She "noted that the average check for House diners went up 31 percent between 2007 and the end of 2008. In particular, she noted the $6.25 price tag on a Reuben — a sandwich that costs $4.75 at Star Deli in New York City, she said.

"Staff and members are 'paying some outrageous prices for food here,' Wasserman Schultz told Daniel P. Beard, chief administrative officer for the House, who oversees the cafeteria contracts."

But CQ did some comparison shopping on its own and found the price of a Reuben is $8.25 at Bagel Bar West, in Pembroke Pines. And it says that at "Loeb’s Deli in Washington, a favorite noshing spot in the capital," it'll cost you $9.34, with tax.

May 06, 2009

Martinez mystery.....

So Mel Martinez wants to introduce a seemingly non-controversial resolution calling attention to the plight of Cuban journalists -- and calling for their release. His office even gets Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar (who isn't necessarily on the same page with Martinez on Cuba policy) to co-sponsor.

But an unknown senator has apparently taken umbrage to the resolution and blocked it from advancing. Martinez's office is trying to ferret out the culprit. Any guesses?

Click here for the resolution..

State freezes indicted college president's pension

DrBob-RichburgThe college president who was indicted along with Rep. Ray Sansom will not be able to draw a monthly state pension while he awaits an outcome of the criminal charges.

The Department of Management Services has sent Bob Richburg, who was president of Northwest Florida State College until being fired last week, a letter to say his benefits will be suspended "and will remain suspended until such time as the criminal charge has been determined by the court." (read letter here.)

Richburg is one of the so-called double dippers, a state employee who "retired" briefly then was rehired to the same job but with a pension. Richburg got a lump sum of $553,228 in 2007 and started collecting a monthly pension of $8,803 in addition to his $228,000 annual salary.

Continue reading "State freezes indicted college president's pension" »

Gamble deal reached! Hialeah big winner

In a dramatic end to one of the toughest negotiations of the legislative session, House and Senate leaders agreed to a gambling compromise late Wednesday lets the Seminoles keep the games they are now operating while it gives its competitors a lower tax rate and the remote chance of persuading lawmakers to give them additional games in the future.

Legislators agreed to amost of the House position on gambling Wednesday, allowing for slot machines and exclusive use of card games at the Seminole casinos outside of Miami-Dade and Broward and counties and exclusive right to banked card games at its Hard Rock facilities in Broward and Hillsborough counties.

The proposal opens the door to additional games for parimutuels only through legislative approval and a local referendum.

The measure, however, includes major provisions for Hialeah racecourse, allowing it to open with cardrooms and quarterhorse racing and within two years get Class III slot machines.

"This is a victory for the children of Florida,'' said Gov. Charlie Crist. "And for education and I couldn't be more pleased." He said he thinks the deal "sounds like a great one.''

Will the Seminole Tribe accept it? "There's a great possiblity of that. I mean I want to be respectful of their opportunity to have a chance to talk to their members. But it looks like the parameters -- from what I've heard -- are very good.''