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5 posts from January 2, 2014

January 02, 2014

State doubles staff to cope with glitches of $63 million unemployment website


Ok, this is getting expensive.

More than 250 staffers will be hired over the next three months to help process claims for jobless benefits. Another 80 will be hired to handle calls.

The massive hiring follows the aftermath of the Department of Economic Opportunity's troubled roll out of its $63 million website to process unemployment claims. Since its Oct. 15 debut, it has been plagued with problems, giving the state's more than 230,000 claimants much to stress about as they wait, and wait, for the money they need to survive to arrive. At first, DEO executive director Jesse Panuccio blamed the media for raising needless alarms.

But since December, Panuccio has acknowledged that the website does face persistent problems. On Dec. 20, the state announced that it began enforcing a $15,000-per-business day penalty against Deloitte and was withholding $3 million from the vendor. It will be paid when CONNECT is "fully functioning."

A large number of the thousands of delays in payments since the launch have come in the processing of claims that are in dispute or in question. There are 250 employees, called "adjudicators", who currently review these claims and help make a determination if they are valid or not. 

The DEO will add 100 adjudicators in January, another 100 in February and 50 in March.

"We have focused on this area because we know it will do the most to expedite payments to people who have been waiting the longest," Panuccio said in a statement Thursday. 

Another 80 agents will also be added to call centers to help the DEO respond to the flood of calls and complaints it has received since the launch of the website.

"We are dedicated to making sure every claim is processed quickly, and we will continue to work until every claimant is served," Panuccio said. 

How much will all this cost? Panuccio and the DEO have yet to say.

Meet the new Bush -- a baby girl

Vivian Bush and fatherThe Bush family dynasty continues to grow.

John Ellis (Jeb) Bush Jr. and his wife Sandra gave birth to daughter Vivian Alexandra Columba Bush earlier today.

Jeb Jr. is the second son of former Gov. Jeb Bush and his wife Columba. The proud grandpapa announced the arrival today on Twitter: 

Meet my new gorgeous granddaughter, Vivian Alexandra Columba Bush. Congratulations,@JebBushJr and Sandra! pic.twitter.com/BBwuN894Jj

— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) January 2, 2014

The bouncing baby girl also bears the name of her grandmother, the former Florida first lady.

Photo: @JebBush 

Scott signs death warrant for Juan Carlos Chavez


The South Miami-Dade farmhand who raped, murdered and dismembered 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce nearly two decades ago will be executed on Feb. 12 at 6 p.m., the governor’s office said.

Juan Carlos Chavez was convicted of the 1995 murder that shocked Florida and led to the passage of a law that allows the state to indefinitely detain sexual predators. Chavez, 46, will be executed by lethal injection at the Florida State Prison in Starke, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday.

“I just received the news that justice will finally be done in the murder of my son, Jimmy, on September 11, 1995,” Don Ryce, the boy’s father, said in a statement on Thursday. “I feel a combination of sadness and relief. I hope this sends a message to predators that this behavior will not go unpunished.”

The Ryce family was living in the Redland when Jimmy disappeared Sept. 11, 1995, near his school-bus stop. The Ryces and volunteers spent three months frantically searching before Miami-Dade police found his dismembered remains in a nearby avocado grove.

Chavez, then 28, raped and fatally shot him before dismembering his body and burying it in concrete. He confessed during more than 50 hours in Miami-Dade police custody.

After the murder, Ryce’s parents became vocal crusaders for the child victims. Claudine Ryce and her husband, labor lawyer Don Ryce, created a foundation in her son’s name, helping schools develop “stranger-danger” programs, donating tracking bloodhounds to police departments, supporting the parents of abducted children, and pushing for anti-predator legislation. They also pushed for the 1998 Jimmy Ryce Act, which allows the state to indefinitely detain violent sexual predators who have finished their sentences under civil law until they can prove they are rehabilitated.

Claudine Ryce died of an apparent heart attack in 2009.

Miami's got new city commission leaders


A new year means the passing of the gavel on the Miami City Commission dais.

On Dec. 31, Mayor Tomás Regalado appointed Commissioner Wifredo "Willy" Gort as the board's chairman. Gort will take over from Marc Sarnoff at the commission's first 2014 meeting Jan. 9.

As vice-chairman, Regalado gave the nod to Keon Hardemon, a brand-new commissioner who was sworn into office in November.

Selecting the leadership is one of the mayor's few commission powers. The chair and vice-chair serve one-year terms.

Gort, who is generally seen as a Regalado ally, was in line for the chairmanship after being number two under Sarnoff.

But choosing Hardemon was a more strategic move for the mayor, who readily admits he had "no relationship" last year with the commissioner's predecessor, Michelle Spence-Jones, who had accused Regalado in court of conspiring against her. A federal judge dismissed the complaint last month.

Hardemon is Spence-Jones’ political protégé.

"Naming Keon vice-chair sends an important message to his district that the administration is willing to work with him," Regalado said. "I think we are going to have a great relationship."

UPDATED Suspended Miami Lakes mayor makes no mention of arrest in end-of-year email


It landed in inboxes on Dec. 31: an email titled "New Year's Message" from suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi.

"Dear Friends," it began before rattling off a list of accomplishments, including a street expansion and the construction of a new fire station.
Left unsaid: the fact that Pizzi had to send the message from his personal Gmail account -- and not on Miami Lakes letterhead -- because he was busted by the feds in August. Pizzi has pleaded not guilty to allegedly taking $6,750 in kickbacks.
Since his arrest, Pizzi has often turned to email to declare his innocence and vow to fight the corruption charges.
But there was no mention of that in his end-of-year greeting. All was hunky-dory.
"Nothing else that happened this year takes away from my great sense of joy as I watch our Town flourish under the programs that we initiated and all the things we talked about the State of the Town address got done," Pizzi wrote. "Going to the ribbon cutting does not matter, but helping the people does. That is all that ever matters."
He wasn't being disingenuous, Pizzi said in a follow-up email to the Miami Herald. He's just proud of his achievements, he said, noting the irony of projects coming to fruition now that he's out of office.
"I think everyone in Miami Lakes is aware of what happened to me," Pizzi wrote. "I can assure you that I'm aware of it everyday, as is my family. Not a fun Christmas."
This post has been updated with comments from Pizzi's follow-up email.