January 29, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott expresses confidence in his staff

Gov. Rick Scott expressed confidence in his staff Thursday, dismissing the notion that they are responsible for the controversy caused by the hurried dismissal of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

"I have a great chief of staff," Scott said at the Tampa Chamber of Commerce, where he was discussing his proposed $470 million communications tax cut. "Melissa Sellers, along with my other team, is doing a great job."

The response came a day after the three elected Cabinet members criticized the governor's handling of Bailey's dismissal and said they were not consulted before the decision was made to replace him.

At a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee, Attorney General Pam Bondi proposed that the controversial ouster of Bailey in December could have been the doing of the governor's staff without his knowledge. By law, The FDLE commissioner works for the governor and the elected cabinet.

"We all knew there were going to be changes made in the upcoming months, but did I know that Jerry Bailey was going to be told he was fired and have his things packed up, his entire life as a career law enforcement officer in a cardboard box, and be told to be out of the office before the end of the day? Absolutely not," Bondi said. "Nor do I believe the governor knew it."

More here.

-- Josh Solomon, Tampa Bay Times

January 28, 2015

Harsh new criticism leveled at Gov. Rick Scott over FDLE firing

Top state officials in both political parties leveled harsh new criticism at Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday for his decision to oust the longtime Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner absent public discussion with the three Cabinet members who also oversee the agency.

In his strongest criticism yet, Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said "we were misled" about Scott's true intentions to orchestrate Gerald Bailey's removal after a glowing three-decade FDLE career.

When asked whether he believed Scott's version of the truth or Bailey's, Putnam paused and did not give a direct answer.

"Jerry Bailey's a fine man. He served our state very well. The way he was treated at the end of his distinguished career was shabby," Putnam said.

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, accused Scott of violating the Florida Constitution, which he is sworn to uphold, by not giving the Cabinet members any voice in the replacement of the FDLE commissioner.

"Hubris appears to be the organizing principle of our executive branch," Joyner said.

Developing story here.

January 21, 2015

Putnam says no to a do-over of vote to name Swearingen as Bailey's replacement

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Wednesday that he does not believe the solution to the botched dismissal of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey is to start over and redo a vote on the new commissioner. 

“Our collective concern has been focused on the way Gerry Bailey’s dismissal was handled, not on the way Rick Swearingen’s hiring was handled,’’ Putnam told the Herald/Times, a day after Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater hand-delivered a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking to reopen the search for a new commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“I’m not sure that this proposed cure matches the disease that we’re concerned with.”

Putnam and his fellow Cabinet members, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Atwater, have been stung by their decision to let Scott and his staff mislead them into thinking that Bailey voluntarily resigned from the post on Dec. 16. Scott initially claimed it was voluntary and then, when pressed last week, admitted he forced Bailey out.

The Cabinet unanimously voted to replace Bailey last week with Scott's hand-picked choice, Rick Swearingen, a former FDLE agent who served on the governor's security detail often during much of the governor's first term.

Putnam said he is concerned about the disruption of a vote to backtrack on Swearingen’s unanimous election by the Cabinet last week.  

Continue reading "Putnam says no to a do-over of vote to name Swearingen as Bailey's replacement" »

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.” 

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

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.

Continue reading "CFO Jeff Atwater also raises questions about $52 million deal for Heritage Insurance" »

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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