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14 posts from November 20, 2012

November 20, 2012

Miami-Dade mayor names election advisory group

Two weeks after Election Day, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Tuesday night the 13 members of his election advisory group.

Gimenez convened the group after the election was marked by long voting lines, both during early voting and on Election Day. The group will begin meeting at 9 a.m. next Wednesday.

The group's members include attorneys Kendall Coffey and Robert Fernandez, who represented Gimenez and newly elected Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera in recent elections challenges. Also on the committee: the Rev. Victor Curry; Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert; former County Attorney Murray Greenberg; C.J. Ortuño, executive director of SAVE Dade, a gay rights advocacy group; Gepsie Metellus, executive director of Sant La, a Little Haiti-based social services agency; Alice Ancona of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, and Lovette McGill, an activist who has been involved with African-American trade unionists.

The mayor had already named four commissioners -- Lynda Bell, Sally Heyman, Dennis Moss and Rebeca Sosa -- to the group.

"I'm excited to get to work, and our objective is clear: now is the time to for us to take stock of what we did right, what needs to improve, take appropriate action and move forward to make our elections process the best in the nation," Gimenez said in a statement announcing the group's membership. "I want to incorporate the latest technology to make voting fast and easy in our community."

Florida teachers campaign against new evaluation system

From the Times' Gradebook blog:

The Florida Education Association on Tuesday kept up its full-court press on state leaders to back away from value-added calculations in teacher evaluations. The union conducted a news conference at which teachers talked about their concerns in using student test results crunched through VAM to count for half their performance reviews.

FEA president Andy Ford called upon Gov. Rick Scott to delay implementation of the new evaluation system, imposed two sessions ago in Senate Bill 736 -- the first bill Scott signed into law. Scott has not responded. So the teachers continue to portray the evaluations as "not ready for prime time."

Dawn Chapman, president of the St. Johns teachers union, said her organization supports education accountability. But she said the evaluation system was "extremely flawed, had no input from educators, and as a result has not produced a fair evaluation process." 

Here is an excerpt of her remarks:

Good morning. My name is Dawn Chapman and I am a teacher and the President of the St. Johns Education Association and I am proud to say that the St. Johns School District is the number #1 performing county in the State of Florida for the past four years. 

As President of the St. Johns Education Association I have become all too familiar with the concerns, confusion and reservations regarding the implementation of the value added model, which we call VAM, and the impact it has created with the teachers of the St. Johns School District. 

For the record – St. Johns teachers, as well as all teachers, strongly support having an accountability system in place; however it needs to be a system that is fair, reliable, and educationally sound.

The current system under SB736 is extremely flawed, had no input from educators, and as a result has not produced a fair evaluation process. 

Read more here.

Exclusive: Citizens Insurance plagued by laundry list of office scandals

At Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a corporate culture plagued by inter-office scandals, sexual impropriety, lavish spending, alleged cover-ups and big severance checks for disgraced employees has simmered under the radar for years, according to hundreds of internal documents obtained by the Herald/Times.

The corporate cauldron of misconduct boiled over this year when internal investigators tracked the trail of scandal up to the highest levels of the company, drafting a scathing 73-page report that highlights a laundry list of improprieties.

Last month, the investigators were terminated, their report was gutted, and Citizens’ Office of Corporate Integrity was abruptly shut down.

Read more here


Newly sworn in Miami-Dade mayor plans to tackle 'big-picture changes'

Sworn into his first full term on Tuesday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez promised big things from his administration by aiming to lift the county into “the ranks of the world’s leading global cities.”

“We’ve got work to do if we want to be mentioned alongside the New Yorks, the Londons and the Hong Kongs of the world,” Gimenez said. “But I know that we can get there, because we already have so much going for us.”

Gimenez spoke Tuesday morning at a swearing-in ceremony for himself and seven commissioners who were elected in August and November. At a regularly scheduled meeting later Tuesday, the board elected Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, seen as a Gimenez ally, to serve as chairwoman beginning in January. Commissioner Lynda Bell was chosen vice-chairwoman.

The leadership votes in the County Hall commission chambers came after a morning of pomp and circumstance at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay, where the mayor and commissioners took the oath of office surrounded by family, staff and friends. Then they each gave brief remarks.

Breaking down the riddle in Don Gaetz's inaugural Senate address

Addressing the Florida Senate for the first time as its president, Don Gaetz outlined his vision for the year and vowed to reach across the aisle and the rotunda during his term as president. He also took the time to welcome newly elected senators and their families to Tallahassee, welcoming them to "your new extended family -- the Senate family."

That is when the Niceville Republican's speech took an interesting turn, describing the entire 40-member Senate in a way that left reporters in the press gallery guessing out loud who Gaetz was referencing at times.

We came today as forty different people – a nurse, a strawberry grower, a dentist, four educators, a printer, a banker, a dad with a three month old daughter, a mom whose daughter was just wounded in combat halfway across the world, a singer-songwriter, an auctioneer with a putt putt golf course, a guy who spent part of the summer figuring out how to get Turkish olive oil to Miami, a farmer with a million chickens and he’s named each one of them.  There’s the usual posse of lawyers and the rest of us.

So who owns the putt-putt course? Who's got a newborn, and who has the daughter in uniform? And, please tell us who is in the Turkish olive oil business?

Luckily, Gaetz's spokeswoman decoded the riddle for us. Answers are below in parenthesis after each phrase of the speech.

Continue reading "Breaking down the riddle in Don Gaetz's inaugural Senate address" »

Texting and 'Sharia' bans among first bills filed for 2013

Florida lawmakers have filed their first bills of the season.

Several are familiar: A ban on texting while driving, a requirement that parasailing operators carry insurance and a 'foreign law' bill criticized by opponents as anti-Islamic.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who sponsored anti-texting while driving bills for the past two sessions says she has renewed hope for the year.

Last year the measure died after House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, kept it from being heard in committee, Detert said.

Continue reading "Texting and 'Sharia' bans among first bills filed for 2013 " »

Miami-Dade commissioner shows off singing chops at swearing-in ceremony

Miami-Dade County Hall insiders already knew that Commissioner Rebeca Sosa could sing.

She has belted out the national anthem before at past county events. And she has serenaded constituents at senior centers -- a practice that became so popular that she eventually recorded a CD to hand out to supporters.

On Tuesday, she showed off her pipes once again, this time at the swearing-in ceremony for Mayor Carlos Gimenez and seven of her fellow commissioners. The master of ceremonies, Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin, warned that Sosa had a sore throat. ("I was so nervous," she later told The Miami Herald.)

But she sang confidently anyway. "That was a sore throat? Really? OK," an impressed Gimenez told Sosa later, when he took the microphone and praised her rendition.

Take a listen for yourself:

New Florida Speaker Weatherford to House: We will define our time

TALLAHASSEE -- Taking the gavel from his father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan BenseWill Weatherford was unanimously voted as the chamber's next speaker.

The following is the prepared text of his acceptance speech this morning.

In speeches like this, people often say, “we are living in unprecedented times.” Perhaps that’s true. It’s not something we can judge, but rather history judges for us.

What I do know is that we are living in a time when the people of Florida expect us to act. Despite our efforts, more than eight percent of Floridians still cannot find a job. Half of Florida’s homeowners are underwater on their mortgages. More than three and a half million Floridians are on food stamps. One third of all Florida high school students do not graduate.

These are problems that are often avoided because they seem insurmountable. Yet, these are problems that we cannot afford to ignore. Florida must take the reins and determine our own destiny.

Continue reading "New Florida Speaker Weatherford to House: We will define our time" »

Florida makes it official and certifies election results

Gov. Rick Scott and two other statewide elected officials who comprise the state's Election Canvassing Commission certified the 2012 results Tuesday, an action that formally delivers Florida's 29 electoral votes to President Barack Obama.

Fittingly, however, every county but one reported final results to the state. The lone county to miss the deadline was St. Lucie County, where Secretary of State Ken Detzner said the county failed to submit final official results by the state's deadline of 12 noon on Nov. 18.

"If a county's returns are not received by the Department of State by the deadline, the date filed returns thall be ignored, and the results on file at that time shall be certified by the Department," Detzner told the canvassing board, which includes Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Detzner emphasized that the county's official final numbers, which were determined after the deadline, would not have altered the outcome of any race.

"It's always disappointing when something like that happens, but it didn't impact the election," Scott said afterward.

-- Steve Bousquet

Gaetz talks Senate priorities in speech

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is expected to deliver the following remarks in Tallahassee today. Fellow lawmakers this morning elected him president of the Florida Senate.

Governor Scott, Lt. Governor Carroll, Mr. President, Mr. Chief Justice, fellow Senators and fellow citizens.

Thank you, Senator Detert and Senator Montford, for your generous remarks and your nomination.  Thank you to my fellow senators for your trust, a trust I know must be earned and re-earned in the days and years ahead.

Yesterday I joined his family and friends and Senate colleagues in celebrating Senator Chris Smith as the new Minority Leader of the Senate.  I want Senator Smith to know that I have worked extra hard for two years to ensure that he would be the Minority Leader so this is a good day for both of us.

Continue reading "Gaetz talks Senate priorities in speech" »