October 24, 2013

Deerfield Beach businessman entering race for CFO says he's qualified for the job

William D. Rankin, a 53-year-old Deerfield Beach businessman, U.S. Army veteran and “normal, middle-of-the-road kind of guy,” says he is prepared to take on Republican Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and his well-funded re-election effort.

The Democrat said, “I have the qualifications to be the CFO.” Those qualifications include his position as the former director of asset management for the Ohio State Treasury, responsible for the accountability of more than $120 billion public trust and public retirement funds.

Rankin was also a U.S. Army special agent for 11 years, specializing in investigations of white-collar crime and government contract fraud. Injured in the service, he was honorably discharged.

A Cincinnati native, the divorced father of two adult children has been living in Florida since 1999 when he became director of Florida’s 2000 Census operation. He previously served as an outreach director for the U.S. Congressional 2000 Census Oversight Board, and worked with the state’s Haitian and Cuban communities.

Continue reading "Deerfield Beach businessman entering race for CFO says he's qualified for the job " »

August 16, 2013

More FL Democrat struggles: CFO candidate has past of bankruptcies

@MarcACaputo

Political unknown Allie Braswell was already facing an uphill struggle in taking on state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who has a solid political team, a Midas touch for fundraising and good name ID (he got more votes in 2010 than anyone else on the Florida ballot: Marco Rubio, Adam Putnam, Pam Bondi or Rick Scott).

Here's another hurdle for Braswell: The Florida Times Union reports he filed for bankruptcy as many as three times.

It's not a disqualification, Democrats will tell you as they quickly point to the record Medicare fraud fine paid by the hospital company that Scott ran years ago.

But Scott overcame those challenges with gobs of his own personal money and a sharp group of message masters. It doesn't look like Braswell has either of those at his disposal. And it's tough to run for a finance-related job when your finances were a mess at one point.

Braswell's candidacy is another sign of the Florida Democratic Party's structural problems. It struggles to field big-name candidates of its own. Despite outnumbering Republicans by more than 514,209 registered active voters, Democrats control no statewide seats based in the state Capitol and only have one statewide elected official, Sen. Bill Nelson. They're also heavily in the minority in the Florida House and Senate.

The FDP has no bench.

Right now its best hope, according to polls, used to be a Republican: Gov. Charlie Crist, who might run for his old job as a Democrat. In that one respect, Crist has a similarity with Braswell, who also used to be a Republican.

Here's the Times Union on Braswell:

His most recent petition, filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Orlando in October 2008, shows he had $324,325 in assets and $509,155 in liabilities. The case was dismissed by Judge Arthur B. Briskman nearly 13 months after it was filed because Brawell defaulted on payments associated with a payment plan.

At the time of dismissal, he was delinquent on plan payments to the tune of $6,000. “Debtor failed to become current in payments and failed to file a response to the Trustee’s motion to dismiss … this case should be dismissed,” the judge wrote in his final order.

Because it was dismissed, Braswell had to reassume the debt. He would not say how much debt he is carrying today, information that will have to be made public on financial disclosure forms filed by all candidates.

“I used bankruptcy as way to responsibly pay my debt,” he said in an interview Friday.

August 12, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New chairman for Citizens Board of Governors

Chris Gardner, a veteran of the retail insurance brokerage business, has been named chairman of the Board of Governors for Citizens Property Insurance Corp.by Florida CFO Jeff Atwater.

Gardner, a resident of Winter Park, has 20 years of experience in the retail insurance brokerage business with a specific focus in commercial property and casualty insurance. He has served as a member of the Citizens board since his appointment in July 2011.

“In his 20 years in the insurance industry, Chris has proved himself to be a person of high character and sound judgment who shares my high expectations for how a corporation such as Citizens should be managed,” Atwater said in a news release.

Gardner is the managing shareholder of Kuykendall Gardner, LLC, a Florida-based insurance broker doing business since 1953. Neither the firm collectively nor Gardner personally has any current business interests in Citizens, according to the release. He has been a past chairman of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and is a past vice chairman of the City of Orlando Municipal Planning Board.

Gardner succeeds Carlos Lacasa as chairman of the Citizen’s board.

Another change: Sen. President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has appointed Freddie Schinz to the Citizens Board of Governors.

Schinz has more than 40 years of experience as a statewide commercial builder. He replaces Carol Everhart.

Gaetz picks

Gaetz has appointed Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) to the Southern States Energy Board, Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz) to the Education Commission of the States, Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) to the Workforce Florida, Inc., Board of Directors, and Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) to the Florida High School Athletic Association Public Liaison Advisory Committee.

Flores, 36, is an attorney and CEO of Doral College. Legg, 38, is a long-time Pasco County educator and the Senate Education Committee Chair. Montford, 65, is the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Stargel, 47, is an investment property manager in Lakeland.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

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 16, 2013

Cat Fund bill survives two special interest cat fights, headed to House floor

A bill to shrink Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund survived substantial debate and parallel cat fights between special interests Tuesday, clearing its final House committee. It now heads to the House floor. 

HB 1107 by Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, would reduce the state’s $17 billion reinsurance fund, while also exempting medical malpractice insurers from potential “assessments” levied by the fund. 

Both issues—shrinking the low-cost reinsurance fund and exempting medical malpractice—sparked opposing arguments among lawmakers and groups that have a financial interest in the outcome. 

Hager said he sponsored the bill because the Cat Fund may not be able to meet its obligations to pay claims for Citizens Property Insurance and other private insurance companies that buy its reinsurance. 

“This is the time for us to belly up to the bar,” he said. “We’ve made promises. Promises we know that we could not keep.”

Continue reading "Cat Fund bill survives two special interest cat fights, headed to House floor" »

April 10, 2013

Shhh... Soaring insurance rates the unspoken theme in fast-moving Senate bill

Rate increases have been the unspoken undercurrent of a property insurance bill cruising through the Florida Senate.

As lawmakers have cast their votes on the quickly-moving and complex bill, few have discussed exactly how much rates would increase under the proposal. With little discussion of the bill’s rate impact, it has sailed through committee and could be debated on the floor on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Citizens President Barry Gilway gave the first glimpse of the actual rate impact and pointed out that it could be substantial. 

“There are 11 territories that would see a rate increase of over 60 percent,” he said

Here are some of the rate increases that will hit new Citizens customers next year if the bill passes in its current form. 

Part of Volusia County: 86.8 percent
Part of Lee County: 62 percent
Part of Broward County: 65.6 percent
Part of Hernando County: 73.3 percent
Part of Monroe County: 137.8 percent
Part of Palm Beach County: 60.1 percent

Other territories in Miami-Dade County and parts of Tampa Bay could also see annual insurance premiums increase by thousands of dollars. Sinkhole rates in places like Hernando County could nearly triple. 

Those numbers have been non-existent in the debate over SB 1770, which is reaching a floor vote after bipartisan support in three Senate committees. Some of the lawmakers voting for the bill represent districts where rate increases would hit hardest. Rates would go up mostly for new customers, but that includes people who get dropped by their insurance companies and forced into Citizens, and people who get dropped by Citizens and need to rejoin.

Continue reading "Shhh... Soaring insurance rates the unspoken theme in fast-moving Senate bill " »

March 27, 2013

Digital Domain CEO hits back at damning IG report, blames Scott-Crist politics

Digital Domain debacle, take two.

The former CEO of Digital Domain is hitting back with an alternative script after an Inspector General report slammed the process that helped the now-defunct Port St. Lucie film studio get $20 million in taxpayer grants. 

John Textor said the claim by Gov. Rick Scott and Enterprise Florida that the Digital Domain deal was some kind of widely discredited proposal that had been blacklisted by Enterprise Florida, only to be slipped into the budget later by aggressive lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist—is complete fiction.

In fact, Textor said, Enterprise Florida actually recommended that Florida taxpayers chip in about $11.4 million to help Digital Domain bring jobs to the state.

An email Textor provided to the Herald/Times shows that an Enterprise Florida representative wrote Textor on March 18, 2009, saying that the organization would “present to [the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development] relative to a one-time award of $6.1 million” and other awards for a “total potential FL economic incentive package” of $11.4 million. The email, not included in the IG report, said Digital Domain would be required to create 300 jobs. 

EFI never went through with a recommendation to OTTED (which is required for  economic incentives grants to be awarded), but Textor has a very different explanation for why that did not happen.

According to Enterprise Florida’s account, the organization refused to support funding because Digital Domain’s finances were “extremely weak” and its business model was suspect.  Textor has a different story, and questions Enterprise Florida’s credibility by pointing out that the organization believed Digital Domain’s business plan was strong enough to receive an $11.4 million incentives package. 

Textor believes that he and others are being thrown under the bus as a way for Gov. Rick Scott to attack the Crist administration, which was in charge when Digital Domain received funding by getting special language tacked onto the state's budget.

Continue reading "Digital Domain CEO hits back at damning IG report, blames Scott-Crist politics" »

IG Report: Many said 'Yes' to ill-fated Digital Domain tax grant

Senate President Don Gaetz has grown fond of saying, about the legislative process, “It takes three ‘Yeses’ to get to ‘Yes’ and only one ‘No’ to get to ‘No’.”

When it comes to the ill-fated $20 million grant to a now-bankrupt Port St. Lucie film studio, several legislative power players said ‘Yes’ to a deal that later cost taxpayers dearly.

The long list of abettors, unveiled in a recently released Chief Inspector General report, includes former Gov. Charlie Crist, former economic development head Dale Brill, current Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, former House Speaker Larry Cretul, former U.S. Representative David Rivera, former Rep. Kevin Ambler and former Lieutenant Gov. Jennifer Carroll.  

In a process that Brill said involved taking great energy to “deliberately and intentionally sidestep the process,” Digital Domain was able to corral enough support from Tallahassee power players to get $20 million in taxpayer grants over the objections of the organization responsible for vetting such awards.

According to the report, Enterprise Florida advised against giving Digital Domain such a large grant in 2009, raising questions about its financial stability.

But there were several other power players who said ‘Yes,’ allowing the company to circumvent the vetting process and gain access to a large pot of taxpayer cash.

Last year, Digital Domain went bust in a high-profile bankruptcy.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered his Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel to investigate how the deal came together.

According to Miguel’s report, here’s a timeline of how the ill-fated deal came into existence:

Continue reading "IG Report: Many said 'Yes' to ill-fated Digital Domain tax grant" »

March 06, 2013

Atwater: Medicaid expansion probably won’t pass now, but may be ‘inevitable’ later

Speaking to the Florida Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater expressed many of the same concerns of other Cabinet members about Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to accept federal funding and expand Medicaid: It would grow a government entitlement and be a new billion-dollar expense for the state.

But Atwater seemed to agree with other experts and commentators who believe that Florida and other states will eventually agree to some form of Medicaid expansion, and the billions of federal dollars it will bring. 

Atwater said that the state was in a “really tough spot” because expanding Medicaid will bring additional costs, but not accepting the federal money could have tough consequences as well. Florida’s safety net hospitals will see much of their federal funding evaporate under the Affordable Care Act, and the expansion of Medicaid was supposed to pick up the slack.  The state’s Low Income Pool (LIP) could also face new financial “stresses,” making it difficult for Florida's health care system, said Atwater.

“They may delay this—a ‘No’ is not a ‘No’ forever,” he said. “They can join anytime… I believe they’re going to pass [on the expansion]—that’s my take," he said. "And then I think, as the stresses begin to fall like, again, LIP being diminished, this is going to cause great stress to that choice. And, I don’t know, the inevitable, it may be, no matter what people think, happens.”

Atwater said that he believes the best option is for Florida and the federal government to come up with a more acceptable alternative. A spokesperson for the CFO's office said that Atwater remains opposed to Medicaid expansion.

Continue reading "Atwater: Medicaid expansion probably won’t pass now, but may be ‘inevitable’ later" »

October 23, 2012

Scott leaves door open to new Citizens Insurance probe after 'integrity' firings

Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday he was open to having an investigation into the recent firings of Citizens Insurance’s entire Office of Corporate Integrity, though he stopped short of calling for the immediate probe that some good governance groups have asked for.

Scott said he would wait for the completion of the current Inspector General investigation into Citizens—which focuses on corporate spending issues—before deciding whether or not to call for an investigation into the firings.

The Herald/Times reported last week that Citizens had disbanded its Office of Corporate Integrity—the four-person unit responsible for investigating growing complaints of fraud and abuse within the company.

Scott wrote a letter saying that he was “concerned” about the firings.

On Monday, Citizens CEO Barry Gilway defended the firings as a way to realign the company’s operations to focus more on forensic fraud. He said he regretted the way the firings were handled, and was open to having Scott’s inspector general look more closely at what happened.

Scott said he’d hold off on making that decision, and follow a “logical process” of letting the current investigation run its course before deciding on any additional probes.

“He’s not taking it off the table,” said Melissa Sellers, a spokesperson for Scott.

Continue reading "Scott leaves door open to new Citizens Insurance probe after 'integrity' firings" »