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220 posts from May 2013

May 29, 2013

CFO Jeff Atwater also raises questions about $52 million deal for Heritage Insurance

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has weighed in on Citizens Property Insurance’s $52 million deal with an upstart St. Petersburg firm, suggesting that the transfer was “not thoroughly vetted.”

Atwater joins several other top Florida officials in questioning Citizens over the deal, which benefits nine-month-old Heritage Property and Casualty Insurance. The proposal was unveiled and approved last week  in a quickly scheduled 3-2 vote by Citizens’ board. Two board members could not make it to the meeting and another abstained from voting, allowing the proposal to carry with support of only three of Citizens' eight board members. 

“Citizens must recognize that making significant financial decisions on behalf of Floridians deserves full and complete transparency,” Atwater said in a statement provided by a spokesperson.

Heritage, which donated $110,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection campaign in March, will receive up to $52 million from Citizens’ $6.4 billion surplus, part of a unique retroactive reinsurance deal. The company will take over as many as 60,000 policies from the state-run insurer.

The deal has sparked criticism from House Speaker Will Weatherford, Rep. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey), Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami) and former state senator Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach). Weatherford pledged to have his Regulatory Affairs chair conduct a thorough review of Citizens. Scott’s chief of staff called the board “tone-deaf” and the governor’s office said Scott did not influence the board to act on behalf of his political contributor. A board member appointed by Scott made the motion to approve the deal.

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Miami mayoral challenger draws big-name support


Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, who is vying to unseat mayor Tomás Regalado in the upcoming November election, now has the support of three of his four colleagues, in addition to that of the county mayor.

Commissioners Marc Sarnoff, Michelle Spence-Jones and Wifredo “Willy” Gort, as well as Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, will host a fundraising party for Suarez next week.

Their support for Suarez over an incumbent mayor speaks to the wide disapproval among many local leaders of Regalado’s tenure. Regalado won his 2009 race with more than 70 percent of the vote.

“These are significant leaders in the community who are excited about the possibility of having a mayor like me who has a clear vision about the future of this city,” said Suarez, who was reelected without opposition in 2011 after winning Regalado’s old seat in a special election two years earlier.

Regalado said he knows he’s made choices that haven’t sat well with the commission. As an example, he pointed to his decision last week to veto a plan favored by Sarnoff, Spence-Jones and Gort to allow some high-ranking retired municipal employees to return to the city’s payroll while collecting their pensions.

More here.

May 28, 2013

Judge orders release of redistricting documents--again

 A Leon County judge has again ordered more documents to be turned over to plaintiffs in a long-running lawsuit over Florida’s redrawn legislative maps.

A group of plaintiffs challenging the maps under Florida’s “Fair Districts” mandate said six weeks have passed since Judge Terry Lewis ordered that the documents be disclosed, with no records produced.

Lewis mostly agreed, ordering Gainesville-based Data Targeting to turn over many the documents within 24 hours.

Any documents that Data Targeting believe to be privileged or confidential will be presented to Lewis, who will make the final decision about whether they should be released.

Attorneys for Data Targeting said they did not immediately comply with the order to produce the documents by April 22, because they feared the damage that could be done by revealing personal and internal communications, letting the “cat out of the bag.”

“What we’ve said all along—it’s a fishing expedition for political reasons,” said D. Kent Safriet, a Tallahassee attorney. “You can’t unpublish (the documents) in the newspaper.”

There is a pending case on appeal that could nullify part of the order to release the documents.

Last week, the 1st District Court of Appeals found that members of the Legislature did not have to testify in the case, and plaintiffs are seeking to get access to records from "non-parties."

Adam Schachter, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called the delays "utterly indefensible," and asked the judge to impose a daily fine until the records are produced.

Lewis said that if the documents were not produced quickly, he do just that. 

“I’m not real happy about it,” he said. 

18 South Florida politicians chosen for 'good government' training


Eighteen local and state elected officials have been chosen to take part in the third class of the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami. The program, created by former Miami-Dade Commissioner Katy Sorenson, is designed to train politicians to be more effective in office.

“It’s inspiring to be able to convene another group of committed, thoughtful elected officials who are eager to serve their communities in an honorable and intelligent way,” Sorenson said Tuesday in a statement.

The new class members are, from Miami-Dade: Cutler Bay Council member Peggy Bell, North Bay Village Commissioner Richard Chervony, Aventura Commissioner Enbar Cohen, North Miami Beach Council member Anthony DeFillipo, Palmetto Bay Vice Mayor John DuBois, Homestead Council member Patricia Fairclough-McCormick, Miami Gardens Council member Erhabor Ighodaro, Biscayne Park Mayor Noah Jacobs, Surfside Commissioner Michelle Kligman, Coral Gables Commissioner Vince Lago, Miami Lakes Council member Anthony Lama, Democratic state Rep. Kionne McGhee of Miami, and Bay Harbor Islands Council member Kelly Reid.

From Broward: Miramar Commissioner Yvette Colbourne, Davie Council member Caryl Hattan, and Hallandale Beach Commissioner Michele Lazarow.

From Monroe: Republican state Rep. Holly Raschein of Key Largo.

From Palm Beach: Palm Beach Shores Commissioner Myra Koutzen.

Miami-Dade social services feel sequester pinch


Rosanna Taveras figured the federal budget cuts from the so-called sequester would go unnoticed at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami.

But Taveras, the agency’s director, will close a Miami Gardens program that serves about 30 hot lunches a day to elderly residents of an apartment building.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t think we were going to be cut,’’ Taveras recalled. “But in the beginning of April, I realized I had to close something.”

Friday’s scheduled closing of the free-lunch program at the Saint Monica senior apartment building captures a string of ripple effects in South Florida from the sequester, a collection of $85 billion worth of spending cuts triggered by the failure of the White House and Congress to agree on deficit-reduction plan.

Although the nation’s airports caught most of the attention from the sequester, the cuts are being blamed for a string of smaller reductions at all levels of government, affecting mostly the elderly and poor.

Miami-Dade County last week alone issued a tally of estimated costs from the sequester for its operations, and the bulk of the $12 million tally comes from $9.5 million worth of security and immigration reductions at Miami International Airport. Beyond the high-profile airport impacts, the summary from Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s office shows smaller cuts to social services, including $730,000 in stipends to help the poor pay their utility bills and $25,000 for the county’s victims-assistance office.

The breakdown offers the first detailed look at the sequester’s estimated impact on Miami-Dade, Florida’s biggest county. With the sequester about to enter its third month, the ripple effects from the federal cuts still haven’t been fully measured or estimated by the local governments who rely on Washington to subsidize programs and facilities.

More here.

Maquinitas: Games of skill or chance?


“No! No! No! Arrrrgh,” cried out Barbara Sciandra in a strangled tone, hands clutching the sides of her head in anguish as the numbskull newbie in front of the video slot machine — that is, me — botched yet another game, another 8 cents frittered away to rookie incomprehension.

“Sorry,” she continued a moment later, in a calmer tone. “But you had three ‘cross fever’ symbols in the corners. You should have held them and raised your bet. If you get four, a jackpot is almost inevitable.”

Actually, the jackpot would have been entirely theoretical, as were those 8 cents I lost. We were playing the machine secretly and for free, in a South Florida arcade closed last month when the Florida Legislature passed a harsh new video gambling law.

The owner opened it up, reinstalled the computer motherboards in several of the machines, and invited a few of the arcade’s regular customers back for an afternoon so I could test one of the frequent criticisms of the slots: that they’re pure games of chance in which skill plays no part.

The no-skill allegation came up again during the legislative debate this spring over a bill, which eventually passed, to ban video gambling in senior arcades, gas stations and mom-and-pop cafes. “They are not games of skill,” lobbyist Ron Book — who represents pari-mutuel racetracks, which wanted to stamp out competition for their casinos — told the Florida House. “They are clearly games of gambling and chance.”

Nobody denies the machines involve gambling; you play them for pennies in hopes of winning a much more valuable prize. And they certainly involve an element of chance, like all games, even chess. (Many statistical studies have shown that the player who gets the white pieces and the first move, which is typically decided with a coin flip or something similar, wins between 52 and 56 percent of the time.)

But if skill plays a part in the video games, even a small one, then they aren’t gambling devices under Florida law. And if my afternoon at the arcade means anything, skill matters a lot.

More here.

May 26, 2013

Roger Stone: Why I won't run for FL governor

A written statement from Republican operative-turned-Libertarian Roger Stone:

While I am sorely tempted to be a candidate for Governor of Florida, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate. I have come to the conclusion that my own, shall we say, colorful lifestyle and the bumps and scars of hundreds of political fights would be a distraction from our message of Liberty.
I am also a political realist. Florida is one of the most expensive media states in the country. It will take millions of dollars to even make voters aware that there is an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. If there is any lesson from last year’s Presidential campaign it is this- it doesn’t do any good to have a compelling platform if no one knows about it.

You could shake hands with voters everyday between now and Election Day and not reach as many voters as one prime-time television spot in the Miami media market. “Money is the mother’s milk of politics” as a great politician once said.

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The party in the police state: Memorial Day weekend, race and badge-heavy feds


Picture 1South Beach’s Memorial Day 2013 bash is a party in a police state.

Barricades line the South Beach streets. Mobile watchtowers rise on Ocean Drive. And packs of officers on foot, bicycles and ATVs keep the partiers — and even the guys grilling on the beach — in line.

The result as of Saturday afternoon: No one got shot, unlike in 2011. No one had his face chewed off, unlike 2012.

And few seem too concerned with a police presence. But many feel it’s a little too heavy and a little too targeted toward African-American youth, who have made Memorial Day on South Beach as big as it is controversial.

“A lot of people say it’s a hassle,” said Evan McCloud, a 30-year-old from Bridgeport Conn. “But it’s not that bad if you’re minding your own business.”

“It’s not like the police are just bothering people,” he said.

Moments later, a pack of bike-mounted police officers stopped to talk to him and his two friends as they cooked with two $4 Publix-bought disposable grills balanced on a section of wall between the beach and the promenade.

“No grilling,” one officer said. “You have to put that out.”

“I give you an A for ingenuity,” said another.

Story is here.

Picture 6Later, about 11:15 p.m. Saturday around Drexel Avenue and 14th Street, a gaggle of Miami Beach Police and at least one federal marshal had stopped 4 black males, pulled them out of their car and appeared to be searching it.

When I tried to get a photograph from a safe distance (a street corner sidewalk), one cop said " get the fuck out of here." That's when the record button on the iPhone was pushed.

Man, some cops sure hate cameras. Most of the good ones don't. They have nothing to hide. And most police are good, decent and hard-working people who have a tough job. But not all are.

A good example of a professional officer: Miami Beach Detective Juan Sam Pedro, who diffused the situation. A department spokesman said the agency has made sure that its officers respect the rights of the press after a run-in with a Channel 10 camera man in 2011.

"All Miami Beach Police Officers were trained into the 'do’s and don’ts' when it comes to picture taking in a public area by anyone including News Media Personnel," Robert Hernandez said.

The two officers who wanted all recording stopped were not city police, Hernandez said. It's therefore likely they were both with the marshal's service.

Of course, there will be those who think it's perfectly OK for police to command a person (reporter or simply private citizen) to move. However, it's well-accepted case law in Florida that a person has the right to photograph a public scene in public, provided it doesn't interfere with law enforcement's legitimate investigation. In this case, I was well away from the crime scene, and there was no threat.

And had I been allowed to photograph from the safe distance away, there would have been no confrontation -- and no video.

May 24, 2013

RPOF blasts Gelber for attacking Scott over Heritage Insurance and $52 million deal; pulls in Crist

The Republican Party of Florida came to Gov. Rick Scott's defense Friday after former state Senator Dan Gelber wrote a letter asking the governor to return a $110,000 contribution he received from an insurance startup that could get $52 million from the state-run insurance giant.

RPOF slammed Gelber, saying the Miami Beach Democrat was doing "dirty work" for former governor and potential 2014 candidate Charlie Crist. RPOF used the opportunity to ask Gelber about Crist's questionable "allies," including convicted felons Jim Greer and Scott Rothstein.  

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Weatherford: I'm 'highly concerned' about $52 million Heritage insurance deal

The list of lawmakers criticizing Citizens Property Insurance Corp. for a $52 million takeout deal continues to grow, as House Speaker Will Weatherford said Friday that he had "serious concerns" about the plan.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Citizens did not provide sufficient notice to the Legislature before quickly approving the $52 million deal that was unveiled and voted on this week.

"I have serious concerns about the latest takeout agreement between Citizens and the Heritage Property and Casualty Insurance Company, particularly the lengthy backdated payments for coverage that Heritage did not provide," Weatherford said in a statment. "Once again, Citizens did not provide a sufficient advanced briefing to the Legislature, and the proposal was hastily pushed through a sharply divided board."

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