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15 posts from June 2, 2014

June 02, 2014

Miami says it's 'far apart' in early MLS stadium talks


For months, David Beckham’s Major League Soccer venture has said it will pay some sort of annual rent — “fair,” “market” or “reasonable” — to build a stadium on prime public land.

Yet the number Beckham representatives have floated in early talks with the city of Miami is so low that the city manager has, at least for now, called for the two sides to “take a breather.”

That figure: $500,000 a year, according to the city.

Miami says it has not countered with a figure of its own, but it’s far higher than $500,000 — as high as $12 million to $14 million, City Manager Daniel Alfonso said Monday.

“We’re just too far apart,” he told the Miami Herald.

Alfonso had initially asked city consultants to take a look at how a potential deal with Miami Beckham United might work financially, if the investors filled a deep-water water basin known as the Florida East Coast Railway slip to build a 20,000-seat stadium.

On Monday, the manager said he’s called off that request, at least for now. Alfonso said he doesn’t want Miami to spend money studying the possibility until the city gets a better sense of how much Beckham’s group is willing to offer.

John Alschuler, Beckham’s real-estate adviser who is leading the discussions with the government, declined to comment Monday on the discussions. He said in a wide-ranging interview last week that the venture is committed to negotiating with the city in private.

“We’ve said we’ll make a fair payment,” he said at the time, without denying the figure. “We have a range of what we think we’re able to pay.”

More here.

SkyRise Tower among the local projects vetoed by the governor

Gov. Rick Scott’s modest list of budget vetoes included $2 million for the controversial SkyRise Miami observation tower that had been a top priority of the Miami-Dade delegation, but most of the locally-sought projects survived.

“When you see a veto it kind of hurts a little but overall, I think we did very well,” said Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, chairman of the Miami Dade County legislative delegation.

Miami-Dade lawmakers originally sought $10 million to contribute to the $430 million observation tower to be located behind Bayside Marketplace and rising 1,000 feet into the air. But amid resistance from other legislators, they eventually whittled it down to $2 million with the condition that it would only be used on public infrastructure, such as sidewalks and driveways. The money was also contingent on the project securing $400 million in private-sector funding.

“The governor felt it wasn’t deserving of the merits, that’s fine,’’ said Gonzalez, who is serving his final term but he said he expects legislators to return next year for state money, when construction on the project is expected to be underway. “Maybe we can sell it then,’’ he said.

The governor also disappointed several other local groups by vetoing the following: 

Continue reading "SkyRise Tower among the local projects vetoed by the governor" »

Investigation sought into exodus of Citizens executives to vendors with contracts

Responding to a report by the Herald/Times on the exodus of executives that leave Citizens Property Insurance to work for companies that receive contracts, the head of a public watchdog group as well as the two top executives at Citizens called for an investigation on Monday.

Dan Krassner, head of Integrity Florida, called on the newly-appointed inspector general of Citizens  to conduct the investigation "into the numerous examples of a revolving door between Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and the organization’s vendors."  Download Close the Citizens Insurance Revolving Door – Investigation Needed June 2, 2014

Krassner's request to Bruce Meeks was followed by a similar request by Citizens CEO Barry Gilway and chairman of the board Chris Gardner. Gilway said the review was needed to "to ensure Citizens is operating in a transparent and ethical manner."  Download Citizens investigation ethic

Here's the Herald/Times report. 

As promised, Gov. Rick Scott vetoes speed limit bill


Gov. Rick Scott said last month that the death of a state highway trooper who was killed investigating an interstate accident convinced him a speed limit increase was wrong for Florida. Today, Scott made good on his promise to veto Senate Bill 392, which would have authorized state officials to raise the limit 5 mph to a maximum 75 mph if deemed safe.

"Although the bill does not mandate higher speed limits, allowing for the possibility of faster driving on Florida's roads and highways could ultimately and unacceptably increase the risk of serious accidents for Florida citizens and visitors," Scott wrote in his veto letter.

Scott added that he rejected the bill after hearing from law enforcement officers who believe higher travel speeds increased the severity of accidents and led to more deaths and injuries.

The death of Florida Highway Patrol trooper Chelsea Renee Richard, whose funeral Scott attended, politicized the speed limit issue, bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes said today. Richard was killed while investigating an accident on Interstate 75 in Ocala; two others also died when struck by a passing pickup truck.

"It became a political issue even though Officer Richard’s death was not directly related to speeding, and I think the report would ultimately vet that out," Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said.

Nevertheless, he believes Scott has made his position clear and Brandes does not plan on proposing another speed limit hike next year, although he may focus just on increasing minimum speeds on interstates.

"Based on his veto letter I don’t think he could sign it in the future," Brandes said.

Dade School Board member Perez faces first challenger in 16 years


In the 16 years since she first bounced an incumbent from office to become a member of the Miami-Dade School Board, Marta Perez has had never drawn an opponent.

But it looks like Perez, for the first time since 1998, must fight to represent the school board’s district 8 now that Lawrence Orihuela, a retired public school teacher and university adjunct, has filed to challenge her this August.

“My point of view will be different [than Perez]. It’s not about what she has or hasn’t done. It’s about what I can offer to the school system,” said Orihuela, who taught in Miami-Dade public and private schools for more than 20 years.

Orihuela, a self-described “political junkie,” said he has pondered running for school board for years. He said he decided to challenge Perez in part because no one has ever challenged her for her seat, which represents parts of central and west Dade.

“I think it’s time people in district 8 have a choice to pick someone, and have a discussion. If there’s no opposition then there’s no discussion,” said Orihuela, 66. “With no discussion there’s no way of knowing what people really believe.”

Orihuela declined to opine on Perez’s performance as a school board member, or on the school board in general. He said the only thing that matters is what he brings to the table: a PhD in education, curriculum and instruction from FIU and 20 years as an adjunct teaching future educators both at his alma mater and at Miami Dade College.

A problem for Orihuela, however, is that as attractive as his credentials are, Perez also has notable, similar bonafides. She’s a retired, Dade schools teacher who holds a PhD in educational leadership from the University of Miami - credentials that helped her beat then incumbent Renier Diaz de la Portilla back in 1998.

She has added a juris doctorate from St. Thomas University since then and 16 years of school board experience, during which she earned a reputation as a maverick.

“Anyone is free to run,” said Perez, 62. “The voters should look at my record for accountability and reform, and all of the positive things that have happened at the school district since I was elected.”

Perez also has loaned her campaign $100,000. Orihuela, meanwhile, had yet to raise a penny as of the beginning of May.

So far, Perez is the only school board incumbent to draw an opponent.

Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Raquel Regalado and board Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman have all filed to retain their seats. Bendross-Mindingall has raised $30,000, Tabares-Hantman has a war chest of $53,000, and Regalado has raised more than $100,000 and is already running radio spots.

Candidates for the non-partisan school board election must qualify by June 20.

Only $69M in vetoes as Gov. Rick Scott signs budget


Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed into law the largest budget in state history, a $77 billion spending plan crafted to enhance his re-election prospects, as well as the Republican legislators who crafted it.

Scott didn’t use a scalpel for vetoes, it was a pair of tweezers: $69 million in vetoed spending is less than half his previous low.

Scott did not hold a public bill-signing ceremony— a clear sign that he did not want to draw any more attention than necessary to his decision to veto such little pork-barrel spending.

It was Scott’s most delicate use of the veto pen since he took office in 2011. He vetoed $142 million from the budget in 2012, and $368 million last year.

“He was in a precarious position,” said Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, who championed a number of line-item projects throughout the state.

Hooper said Scott could not afford to alienate his fellow Republicans in the Legislature when he’s in a tough fight for re-election, but he may rile conservatives by his support of more government spending.

More here.

Marco Rubio heads to Iowa to help Senate hopeful


WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and potential 2016 presidential candidate, is lending his conservative cred to a Senate candidate from Iowa who is in the driver’s seat for a competitive primary that could be decided Tuesday.

On Monday afternoon, Rubio is scheduled to join state Sen. Joni Ernst at her campaign headquarters in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale. Ernst, from the tiny southwestern Iowa town of Red Oak, has taken a commanding lead in a five-person Republican primary. A poll released Saturday has her up by 18 points over a big-spending former energy company executive, a former U.S. attorney and a college professor/former conservative radio show host.

Ernst, who made a national name with two catchy and provocative TV ads -- one dealing with hog castration, the other showing her shooting at a firing range -- is widely expected to finish an easy first on Tuesday. But she needs to clear 35 percent to prevent the race from heading to a convention and being decided among party activists.

Given her strong support from the party establishment, Ernst would do well at a convention. Even so, finishing first in the primary has no official impact on the convention, which is decided by the most-dedicated and often most-conservative party activists.

Two other candidates – professor Sam Clovis, who has the backing of former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum; and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, who had help last week from Texas Gov. Rick Perry -- have strong followings among conservatives in the state. Ernst does as well: she has received endorsements from both moderate and conservative Republicans, and the recent poll shows Iowa voters perceive her as conservative.

Rubio could help lock down some of those voters, just as former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign stops with Ernst last week could have helped her with moderate Republicans.

The weekend’s poll, from the Des Moines Register, put her at 36 percent -- just above the necessary threshold; 16 percent remained undecided.


FSU presidency appears to be John Thrasher's to lose


For three months, he tried to deflect attention.

State Sen. John Thrasher wants to become Florida State University's next president, but he demurred, steering questions about the job to other topics while acknowledging the buzz his name generated.

The 70-year-old Republican from St. Augustine has no choice now. A popular former FSU president nominated him for the prestigious position and the school's search advisory committee agreed to halt its work and interview him right away.

All before he formally applied.

Given Thrasher's lack of academic credentials, critics say this connected politician is being handed an exclusive, inside track to the presidency.

"I have to sell it to some people; I realize that," Thrasher said in an interview with the Times/Herald. "I don't take it for granted. I don't take it lightly."

Read more here.

John Thrasher's deep ties to FSU


To understand state Sen. John Thrasher's deep bond with Florida State University, start in the 1960s.

The Jacksonville native enrolled in the business school, earning his bachelor's degree. After a stint with the Army in Vietnam, he returned for a law degree in 1972.

His involvement in politics as a leader of the Republican Party provided a platform for him to give back. During an eight-year tenure in the Florida House, including two as speaker, Thrasher earmarked millions in the state budget for updating campus facilities and programs. One of his final acts as the outgoing leader in 2000 was overcoming powerful opposition to create a medical school at FSU; it's building was later named the John Thrasher College of Medicine Building.

"That was one of his babies," said former state Sen. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat who served with Thrasher. "The medical school was one that they wanted real bad, and John was very significant."

When Thrasher returned to the private sector, he started a lucrative lobbying firm that allowed him time to give back to FSU in a new way: as the first chairman of the university's Board of Trustees. There he suffered one of few defeats as he tried to establish a school of chiropractic medicine.

Read more here.

Former Hialeah mayor’s land deal -- and $800,000 payday -- cost taxpayers millions

@jayhweaver @kikeflor

Former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina beamed and clenched his fist when he and his wife beat a criminal rap in their recent tax-evasion trial.

But as he ponders a possible return to political life, one particular piece of trial evidence could dog Robaina on any future campaign trail — a secretive $800,000 fee he collected years ago for helping a developer make a $16 million profit on a taxpayer-funded land sale to the Miami-Dade County public schools.

The payment came from Robaina’s most generous political patron, the late Roberto Cayon. The wealthy developer tapped Robaina — then serving as the powerful president of the Hialeah City Council — to help overcome strong community opposition to a proposed high-density, multifamily housing development in neighboring Hialeah Gardens. Residents expressed fears that more new homes would further pack already-jammed schools.

Robaina, appearing as Cayon’s real estate broker and lead advocate at a packed public hearing, helped persuade the Hialeah Gardens City Council in January 2003 to allow a substantial land-use change. It doubled the number of allowable dwellings on the parcel — up to 1,050 units on 84 acres in the tiny city.

What critics of the project and the Hialeah Gardens council were not told then was that the Miami-Dade School Board had already approached the Cayon family to purchase the very same tract to help ease school overcrowding.

The up-zoning, narrowly approved 3-2, amounted to a jackpot for Robaina and the Cayons — instantly increasing the value of a tract just purchased for $14 million. But it also cost taxpayers millions.

Although they never built the ambitious original project, the Cayons eventually sold a big chunk of their property to the school board, which decided to buy it under an eminent domain “taking.”

More here.