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153 posts from December 2013

December 21, 2013

Florida says elections supervisors can keep key absentee-ballot information secret


Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s division of elections has issued an opinion that could make it tougher to uncover elections fraud.

And in Miami-Dade County, the state’s hotbed of absentee shenanigans, the elections chief who sought the opinion is eager to follow suit.

In the Nov. 18 opinion, Division of Elections Director Maria I. Matthews wrote that county elections supervisors may shield from the public Internet Protocol addresses identifying the origin of absentee-ballot requests.

Penelope Townsley, the Miami-Dade elections supervisor, plans to keep IP addresses secret.

Had that policy been in place earlier this year, the Miami Herald would not have been able to conduct an investigation that led to the incarceration of Miami Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia’s former chief of staff.

Matthews wrote that if elections supervisors deem IP addresses to be information “necessary” to keeping absentee-ballot records, as Miami-Dade has in recent months, then the addresses are exempt from public disclosure — with a glaring exception.

Political parties, committees, candidates and their campaigns — the very people who have engaged in fraud — will still be able to obtain the information.

So will elections administrators, canvassing board members and voters seeking records of their own ballots. But not the public.

More here.

December 20, 2013

State penalizes contractor over unemployment website issues

From the News Service of Florida:

The state has started to impose daily fines and is withholding a $3 million payment to penalize a company that has helped overhaul the technically troubled unemployment-benefits computer system.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced Friday that it will hold back the payment and is enforcing a $15,000-per-business-day penalty against Minneapolis-based Deloitte Consulting for failing to deliver a "fully functioning" system.

Deloitte will be able to collect the payment when the system, known as Connect, is considered fully functional, department Executive Director Jesse Panuccio said Friday.

No deadline has been set for the system to be fully functional, but additional penalties could be applied if Deloitte is unable to complete the work without more consultants and vendors being brought in to direct and monitor the work.

"We always said there are issues with the system, and the question is at what point do we withhold payment and institute penalties," Panuccio said in an interview. "We think we've reached that point."

Representatives of Deloitte were not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.

Continue reading "State penalizes contractor over unemployment website issues" »

Judge tosses federal lawsuit by 'disgruntled' ex-Miami city commissioner against political foes


A Miami federal judge on Friday slapped down a lawsuit in which former City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones accused her political enemies of conspiring to wreck her career.

In a blistering, 64-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks dismissed Spence-Jones’ complaint against Mayor Tomás Regalado, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle and two assistants as a “political manifesto” that was “full of political intrigue” but lacking in legal merit.

“It is full of self-serving hyperbole, personal attacks, and formulaic, implausible conclusions,” the judge wrote.

He called Spence-Jones, who was termed out of office last month, a “disgruntled” politician whose attempt to settle political scores through the justice system highlighted why public-corruption cases are so difficult to prosecute.

“The decision whether or not to bring charges or, as happened in this case, to dismiss charges when a case cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt must be made without regard to personal legal consequences,” Middlebrooks ruled. “And the unseemly conduct involved in this case unquestionably deserved the prosecutors’ attention.”

This is a developing story. Read more here.

Merry Christmas from Bob Graham, Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist, Rick Scott.. And Kevin Cate

It's official: Florida political consultant Kevin Cate wins Christmas (stay till the end for a Trey Radel cameo).


Former Sen. Al Lawson wants to be FAMU's next president


Florida A&M University is one of three Florida universities in the process of searching for a new president with an aggressive timeline to vet and interview candidates over the holiday break. The school’s current plan calls for the school's Board of Trustees to name a new president as early as Jan. 8.

Today, former state Sen. Al Lawson confirmed that he will apply for the job. If he gets it, he’ll add to the growing trend of politicians being hired to lead public universities.

Former Jacksonville mayor John Delaney is president of the University of North Florida. Frank Brogan stepped down as lieutenant governor to become president at Florida Atlantic University. Betty Castor served in the Florida Senate and on the Hillsborough County Commission before becoming president of the University of South Florida.

And it’s not just Florida. Former U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former governor, was named president of the 10-campus University of California system this summer.

Lawson, 65, is an alum of FAMU one of its most prominent advocates. In fact, the school’s gymnasium is named after him. In addition to serving 10 years in the Florida Senate and 18 in the state House, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010 and 2012. He recently announced that he would not run again in 2014.

Lawson has a budding career as a lobbyist but said the bulk of his professional experience is as an insurance agent and broker.

He said he reached the decision to apply for the FAMU presidency just this week after being encouraged by others to apply. The school needs an apt fundraiser, who can help recruit students and has the connections among the elected officials who control the purse strings at the Capitol, he said.

“I don’t know anyone who can do that any better than I can,” Lawson said.

Continue reading "Former Sen. Al Lawson wants to be FAMU's next president" »

Former Speaker Bense leaves rehab hospital, back home in Panama City

From the News Service of Florida:

Former House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, will be home for the holidays after undergoing more than a month of rehabilitation in Atlanta for a rare, debilitating disease.

Bense, 62, was discharged Friday from the neurological rehabilitation program at the Shepherd Center, the Atlanta facility said in a news release. Bense was moved to the center Nov. 4, after being diagnosed in September with Guillain Barré syndrome, a disorder that attacks the nervous system and can lead to paralysis.

"I have not been in my home for almost four months," Bense said in the news release. "I am looking forward to this weekend and being in my home and in the city and state I so dearly love."

On Wednesday, Bense's wife, Tonie, posted a blog item that said the former speaker would be able to go home.

"We are both eager to get back to Panama City to celebrate Christmas with our family,'' Tonie Bense wrote in the blog on the CaringBridge website. "We were committed to stay here if we needed to but Allan is far enough along to continue the physical therapy needed to walk without a walker. He continues to amaze me everyday. In a few more months he should be back in full swing. Guillian Barre is a very painful disease and he is still in excruciating pain particularly at night."

Bense was a member of the House from 1998 to 2006, serving the final two years as speaker.

Florida unemployment drops to 6.4%, labor force continues to shrink

From the Tampa Bay Times' Jeff Harrington:

Florida's unemployment rate fell dramatically to 6.4 percent in November, down from 6.7 percent in October and 8 percent a year ago.

Nationwide, only North Carolina and New Jersey have had a greater percentage point drop in the their jobless rate over the year.

The state added a net 6,100 jobs between October and November, state officials said Friday.

Once again, Tampa Bay led all Florida metros in adding 39,300 jobs year over year, while its unemployment rate fell to 6.2 per cent. Pinellas and Hillsborough counties boasted the lowest jobless rates in the region at 6 percent while Hernando remained at the other end of the spectrum at 7.7 percent.

"We haven't experienced an unemployment rate this low in over five years," said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who was in Winter Park this morning to release the latest jobs report. "Today's news is great, but we're not finished."

After suffering deeper job losses than most of the country and initially lagging in recovery, Florida's economic rebound has gained steam this year. The national unemployment rate stood at 7 percent in November.

The recovery, however, continues to mask a growing problem of jobless who have at least temporarily given up looking for work and are no longer counted in unemployment statistics. Over the past year, Florida's working-age population of 16-and-up, non-institutional residents has grown by 214,000 but the size of its labor force shrunk by 9,000.

Read more here.

Blaming booze, Trey Radel won't even say "cocaine." Or tell the truth.


His name is Trey Radel. And he wants you to believe he has an alcohol problem.

But the Republican congressman also has a cocaine problem. And his cocaine problem led to an arrest problem. So now he has a political problem.

Radel wouldn’t even say the word “cocaine” at a Thursday press , which he held after he left a Naples rehab. He instead repeatedly talked about “alcohol” and “alcoholism.”

And that makes for an honesty problem.

“I don’t lie,” Radel said. “What I am doing is taking full responsibility and being held accountable among all aspects.”

False. Radel’s 20-minute press conference was a work of deceit and accountability-avoidance. It was more of the same stretching back to his October arrest in Washington.

Continue reading "Blaming booze, Trey Radel won't even say "cocaine." Or tell the truth." »

December 19, 2013

Miami-Dade names Emilio Estefan goodwill ambassador


Pssst! Are you a celebrity? Want to be the face of local government? For four years? As an unpaid "special ambassador"?

Miami-Dade County wants you.

Actually, right now, it wants Emilio Estefan.

County commissioners nominated the entrepreneur, philanthropist and music producer Tuesday to become Miami-Dade's special ambassador -- a symbolic position with no real power.

The only expectations: to attend certain meetings and social functions, provide occasional reports to commissioners and share information about the county. (Only good things, presumably.)

"By creating a formal representative for the County's cultural and trade aspirations, we can continue to develop our community as the nexus between music, art, culture, and trade," Commissioner Jean Monestime said in a statement. He spearheaded the ambassador effort with Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa.

Estefan is married to singer Gloria Estefan. He commented in the statement released by Monestime's office.

"I have always been proud to support efforts that bring prosperity and opportunity to Miami and hopefully this position will allow me, and those who may follow after, to help contribute to the promotion and growth of our community," Estefan said.

Survey: Libraries are popular in Miami-Dade. A tax hike to fund them? Less so


Miami-Dade County residents truly love their libraries, but they don’t necessarily want to pay more taxes to fund them.

Those are the findings of a new poll conducted on behalf of county government, which is trying to find ways to save the public library system from deep budget cuts. Ninety-five percent of respondents who use the library and 72 percent of non-users said libraries add to their quality of life. Eighty-three percent of respondents disagreed with a statement calling libraries “outmoded, obsolete and no longer necessary.”

Yet support for increasing the property-tax rate — likely the only way to grow the libraries or even keep them intact — was inconsistent, according to the survey by Behavioral Science Research, a Coral Gables-based firm.

Forty-four percent of respondents said they would be OK with a tax-rate hike, with 20 percent undecided.

Robert Ladner, the president of Behavioral Science Research, called the support “soft.”

“It is a very vulnerable area,” he said this week to Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s task force examining the libraries’ future.

More here.