January 15, 2015

Is Kevin McCarty Scott's next target? Atwater, Bondi & Putnam say they haven't discussed it

Kevin McCartyBy Jeff Harrington and Mary Ellen Klas

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has survived sitting on one of the hottest seats in state government for more than a decade. 

Since becoming the state’s first appointed insurance commissioner in January 2003, he’s endured a string of governors and Cabinets. He’s sidestepped controversy over soaring property insurance rates, a rash of insurer insolvencies, the ever-changing mission of state-run Citizens Property Insurance and how the state’s health insurance model should integrate Obamacare.

But there’s growing signs that Gov. Rick Scott may want his tenure to come to a close, just as he sought to end the career of FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

Sources inside and outside the insurance office acknowledge McCarty is under pressure to resign, after 26 years in state government. 

As head of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, McCarty is responsible for setting rates and regulating insurance companies throughout the state.

McCarty could not be reached Thursday. His office said he was traveling to a National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ gathering to assign committee posts and would not be available for comment.

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz would not respond to questions about McCarty but insisted we print her statement indicating she was not dismissing it either.

"Government too often gets stuck in a rut and doesn’t like to change,'' Schutz said in a statement to ther Herald/Times. "But, just like in business – it is good to get fresh ideas and new leadership, especially as we move into a second term.  Executive office positions are not lifetime appointments and for the same reason there are term limits in elected office – it is important to search for the best and newest ideas whenever possible.  In regards to OIR, we have no announcements at this time.”

She did not respond to requests for an explanation of whether they thought the state's insurance regulation was "stuck in a rut."

McCarty's deputy chief of staff Monte Stevens said he could not address reports that the insurance commissioner may be stepping down.

“Commissioner McCarty is focused on doing his job,” Stevens said. “He has spent this week speaking to hundreds of corporate executives and investors, encouraging them to bring their capital to Florida.  He has also met with Legislative leaders to discuss what may be on the horizon during the 2015 session.”

Removing or replacing McCarty will take a majority of the three-member Cabinet, or a vote of the governor plus one other member. That didn't happen this week, when Scott unilaterally asked former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey to resign or be fired.

After Scott admitted to forcing Bailey out, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he had been misled by the governor’s office, which had falsely told him that Bailey had agreed to step down. 

He and other Cabinet officials told the Herald/Times they have not discussed McCarty's fate, and now appear to be more careful in handling the governor's manuevers.

"Transparency and measured deliberation about the changes of those in leadership positions is important,'' said Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. She said Atwater had "absolutely not" been consulted by anyone about a reported "deal" to replace McCarty.

Attorney General Pam Bondi has "absolutely not" been contacted about replacing McCarty, said her spokesman Whitney Ray. 

Erin Gillespie, press secretary to Putnam said he also "has had no discussions regarding Kevin McCarty in the second term.” 

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April 23, 2014

Lawmakers agree to delay controversial hospital funding model

@tbtia

Specifics still need to be ironed out, but hospitals across Florida are already celebrating the news that a controversial funding model will not be implemented as planned this year.

The so-called "tiering" law would have required counties that use local dollars to draw down more federal money for hospitals to begin sharing that money statewide. Jackson Health System in Miami was bracing for a $140 million hit as a result of the new law. Tampa General Hospital said its loss would have been $43 million. Miami Children’s Hospital and All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg estimated they would collectively see funding cut $17.6 million.

The Legislature's two health care budget chiefs -- Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, and Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring-- agreed this morning that the law should be delayed at least for a year. That gives the state time to complete a study of its existing Medicaid funding mechanisms and come up with recommendations, as required by the federal government.

"We don’t know what happens next year so the best thing to do is maintain the status quo," Grimsley said. "When we come back in session next year, we will then have a better idea of what direction we need to go."

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June 25, 2013

Correctional officer honored for heroism by Scott, Cabinet

A Florida correctional officer was honored Tuesday for heroism during a vicious attack by an inmate that cost another officer his life last year.

During a Cabinet meeting, Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members gave a Medal of Heroism award to Stanley Petersen, 61, an officer at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City. It was there on March 18 of last year that an inmate attacked and stabbed to death Officer Ruben Thomas, and severely injured another guard, William Brewer.

Corrections Secretary Mike Crews and other top prison officials were on hand to witness the award ceremony, as Petersen got a standing ovation.

"I'm very happy and proud to be part of the greatest family in Florida," Petersen said. Paraphrasing the agency's slogan, he said: "We do never walk alone."

Petersen, wearing the medal around his neck, said he decided to become a corrections officer about six years ago at the suggestion of a Lake City neighbor who was a probation officer. He earns slightly less than $31,000 a year.

The medal of heroism award was established by former Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature in 2003, Scott's office said.

-- Steve Bousquet

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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April 24, 2013

Scott leverages bond approval to force universities to lower student fees

From the Associated Press: Gov. Rick Scott is putting pressure on Florida's public universities to hold down fees charged to students, making it a condition for two universities seeking state approval for construction projects on their campuses.

Scott indicated Tuesday he refused to go along with granting bonding approval for the projects at Florida State University and Florida International University until the schools agreed to keep costs down for students.

In one instance, the Republican governor said he extracted a promise from Florida International to freeze a transportation access fee for six years as a prelude to winning bonding approval for a new parking garage on FIU's campus in West Miami-Dade County. The fee is paid by every student, including those walking or cycling to class, he said.

"It's the right thing to do," Scott said of the fee freeze during a meeting of the Florida Cabinet at the Capitol.

Asked if he was imposing a new prerequisite for campus bonding projects, Scott replied, "We're doing it on this one." More here. 

March 20, 2013

Movers and Shakers

Three inducted into Florida Women's Hall of Fame

A nurse who committed her life to providing medical care to Tampa’s black citizens, a Florida pioneer, and a women’s rights leader will be inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame by Attorney General Pam Bondi at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Capital Courtyard. 

Nurse  Clara C. Frye, who died in 1936, transformed her Tampa home into a temporary hospital in1908 and then established the Clara Frye Negro Hospital there in 1923. A pavilion at Tampa General Hospital is named after her. Aleene Pridgen Kidd MacKenzie, a 92-year-old Ocala resident, established the FSU Foundation and in 1964, Gov. Farris Bryant  appointed her to chair the first Commission on the Status of Women; she was also the first president of a national women’s safety group. Pioneer Lillie Pierce Voss, the first non-Native American child born between Jupiter and Miami, grew up with the Seminole Indians in the wilds of what would become Palm Beach County. She and a brother later wrote a manuscript called "Pioneer Life in Southeast Florida."

 

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February 07, 2013

Wildlife Federation sues Rick Scott and Cabinet over Everglades leases

The Florida Wildlife Federation has sued Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet to stop its decision Jan. 23 to allow sugar and vegetable farmers to continue leasing state-owned land in the Everglades for another 30 years.  Download FWF Final Petition Stamped

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Wildlife Federation by Earthjustice, which represents a coalition of environmental groups in a federal legal challenge to clean-up agricultural pollution. It alleges that the farming has the potential to exacerbate the pollution the state is attempting to clean-up in the region and the 30-year deal violates a state law requiring private leases on state lands to serve the public interest. 

“This is obviously not in the public interest,” said David Guest, lawyer for Earthjustice. “These leases would allow corporate agricultural pollution to continue unabated, and there is no requirement for any additional cleanup. These state leases don’t even include any pollution discharge limits to protect the Everglades.”

Gaston Cantens, vice president of Florida Crystals, one of the sugar companies that benefits from the lease deal, said the lawsuit will only serve to delay progress in the Everglades. 

"The only thing Earthjustice has done since 1988 is file lawsuits and obstruct progress,'' he said. "Our goal is Everglades restoration. Apparently, David Guest's goal is Everglades litigation."

Under the arrangement agreed to by the governor, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, the state will renew leases on 14,000 acres of the Everglades Agricultural Area for A. Duda & Sons and Florida Crystals in exchange for land needed for clean-up projects.

They rejected suggestions by environmentalists to re-negotiate a shorter-term lease that gives the state more flexibility in the event the leased land may be needed for clean-up projects in the future. But South Florida Water Management District officials assured them the land would not be needed and the governor and Cabinet rejected the environmentalists' requests. 

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January 23, 2013

Enviros now asking for gov and Cabinet to delay action on Glades leases

In a letter today to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet, the Florida Wildlife Federation, 1000 Friends of Florida and the Everglades Law Center are asking them to delay action on a controversial item before them today that would grant no-bid contracts for 30-year leases to farm on Everglades land to give the state time to negotiate shorter terms.

"We question the wisdom and prudence of locking up state-owned land with new 30-year leases that make these lands unavailable for future environmental restoration projects,'' wrote Manley Fuller, Charles Pattison and Lisa Interlandi.

They also questioned a provision in the proposal that would allow Florida Crystals to lease the land under the condition that the leases could be terminated early on 2,200 acres of it if the state needed it for Everglades clean-up. The group said that offer has no guarantees.

"Upon reviewing the language presented to us yesterday, it appears it will take multiple years to invoke these provisions, some of which are so complex and onerous that it is questionable that they could ever be invoked,'' their letter said.

The decision could be a difficult one for Gov. Rick Scott as he faces re-election. His decision to enter into a settlement with sugar growers and the federal government last year is seen by environmentalists as an admirable achievement on an otherwise rocky environmental record.

The writers concluded with this sentence: "We believe the short delay would evidence your serious commitment to the stewardship of public lands."  Download Ltr-Scott-final-EAA_leases-012313

January 22, 2013

Scott and Cabinet to vote on no-bid deal to renew sugar leases

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will be asked on Wednesday to agree to a no-bid contract to allow two major agriculture companies to farm on Everglades land for another 30 years, a deal that would include pouring tons of phosphorous-laden fertilizer onto the site the state is spending billions to clean-up.

The request from Florida Crystals and A. Duda and Sons is supported by the state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard and South Florida Water Management District officials. But environmentalists aren’t happy.  Download 012313_BOT-Attachment-4

“The State of Florida is putting 13,952 acres of state land off the table as a possible solution to future problems,’’ said Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida at a meeting of the Cabinet aides last week. “It is passing up an opportunity.”  Download Lee letter on EAA Lease Extensionsf

Environmentalists have agreed to allow Florida Crystals to continue sugar farming 7,862 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area because they believe the company is “holding the state hostage” and won’t allow a crucial next step to go forward in the Everglades clean-up plan if they don’t get the deal. 

But environmentalists strongly oppose the Duda deal, which would allow that company to continue to grow vegetables on 6,089 acres of land and pump 339 tons of fertilizer each year into the Everglades, exacerbating the clean-up problem the state is spending billions to fix. They want the state to require Duda to reduce its phosphorous run-off in exchange for the favorable no-bid contract. Full story here. 

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May 08, 2012

Florida Cabinet trip to the Keys doesn't come cheap

Accompanied by staff and security, Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members descended on the Florida Keys Monday night, 590 miles from their Tallahassee base.

The elected officials are in Marathon, one of the northern Keys, to discuss water quality and emergency management, among other things. It's the second time this year the Cabinet is vacating Tallahassee to interact with citizens around the state, said Lane Wright, a spokesman for the governor's office.

These Florida field trips aren't cheap, especially when home is the out-of-the-way Tallahassee, where flights are often expensive and inconvenient. That's especially true when it's destination middle-of-nowhere, population 8,000.

Scott shoulders some of the bill by buying his own food and flying two of his staff on his private jet. But for him and his aides to attend alongside Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and their staffs, the cost to taxpayers is at least $5,180.

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