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Enterprise Florida's plan for bonuses stirs criticism

Enterprise Florida Inc., the public-private economic development arm chaired by Gov. Rick Scott, is holding a two-day meeting at a resort in Sandestin to unveil a new marketing campaign for the state of Florida.

But the event has been overshadowed by the group's proposal to parcel out generous raises to staffers, including a $70,000 bonus to CEO Gray Swoope.

Swoope, recruited from Mississippi shortly after Scott was elected in 2010, draws a salary of $225,000 a year and is Scott's point man in recruiting new jobs to the state -- the cornerstone of Scott's agenda as governor.

The Associated Press first reported the bonus plan, which totals $630,000 for about 80 EFI employees, and would come from private funds. But several private organizations are questioning the raises and cite audit reports that say too much of Enterprise Florida's money is coming from state taxpayers, not private sources.

Integrity Florida, the Tea Party Network and Progress Florida sent Scott a letter calling for a halt to the executive bonuses and calling for greater transparency by the organization, whose board is comprised of leading business executives in the state.

"We encourage the Enterprise Florida board of directors to be more transparent about its practices by posting online complete agendas of all meetings of the board and board committees at least a week in advance, posting online minutes immediately following meetings and providing online access to audio or video recordings of all committee and board meetings in a timely manner online," the letter said.

Sean Helton, a spokesman for Enterprise Florida, said bonuses helped Enterprise Florida "attract and retain highly qualified professionals and maintain a high-performance culture," the AP reported. Helton said the bonuses were based on "stellar" performance and pointed out that Enterprise Florida employees do not get "merit pay." He defended using projected jobs as criteria for bonuses since the projects will take years to fully ramp up.

Alan Becker, a prominent South Florida attorney, former Democratic legislator and chairman of the Enterprise Florida finance and compensation committee, said during a Wednesday meeting it was "demoralizing" for Enterprise Florida employees to hear criticisms from legislators.Becker warned other committee members that Scott was concerned Swoope would leave his job because of the criticism he was facing from the Legislature.

-- Steve Bousquet