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 06, 2015

First Lady Ann Scott hosts inaugural reception for military families

In her family's second term in the Governor's Mansion, First Lady Ann Scott plans to continue to prioritize the initiatives she did in the first term, she told the Times/Herald.

"I'm pretty much going to be focusing on the same things," she said. "Reading and literacy, healthy lifestyles for children, military families and foster children."

One of those priorities -- military families -- was the focus for the first lady's inaugural reception Tuesday after Gov. Rick Scott's swearing-in.

At the event at the Goodwood Museum and Gardens two miles from the state Capitol, the governor and first lady met and spoke with military families, paying special tribute to Gold Star families, the relatives of those who have been killed in battle.​

"Serving as your first lady has given me the opportunity to get to know many men, women and children who have made incredible sacrifices for our state and our country," she said. "As a mother and grandmother, I am inspired by the Gold Star families."

-- Michael Auslen, Tampa Bay Times

January 04, 2015

Florida's public records tradition in 2014 became the year of 'oops'

It was a dark year for sunshine in Florida in 2014.

Legal fights by Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Party of Florida kept crucial documents under wraps long enough to dilute their impact once they were released. The governor took the state’s public records tradition a new direction as he used taxpayer money to defend his attempts to shift the burden for holding the public records from the state to individual employees, and his lawyers opened a new legal vein with his interpretation of the blind trust law.

A lawsuit over the state’s congressional redistricting was fought without the aid of emails that showed GOP political consultants conspired to manipulate the process with false witnesses and gerrymandered maps. A legislatively commissioned report to make the state’s budgeting process more transparent was ignored by legislators.

Scott continued to be the first governor in modern history to shield all record of his travel from public view, and his office defended efforts to erase events from calendars before turning them over as public records.

The Department of Children & Families, under orders from the Legislature following a Herald serieson the state’s failure to protect vulnerable children from abusive parents, unveiled a website listing all child deaths. At the same time, Scott’s Department of Health stopped posting critical child death data on its website and excluded from its annual report on child deaths detailed analysis of the causes of death and the state’s role leading up to the fatalities.

And although the Department of Corrections introduced a “transparency database” listing prison deaths after a spate of critical news reports, it continued to embrace a policy that makes it difficult to fully examine the circumstances of in-custody deaths.

“What you’re seeing is a CEO mentality in which everything is viewed as a trade secret,’’ said Paula Dockery, a former Republican senator from Lakeland and former Scott supporter. “While that has served Rick Scott well, it has not served the people of Florida well and is not abiding by the spirit of the open government laws.” Story here. 

Here's a timeline of only some of the issues:

Continue reading "Florida's public records tradition in 2014 became the year of 'oops' " »

November 04, 2014

Ken Detzner: So far, no hitches at the polls on Election Day

Detzner

Voting is going "very smoothly" this morning, with all polls opening on time in the state's 6,222 precincts, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said at an elections briefing in Tallahassee.

While millions are expected to vote today, the number of early votes cast could be a record, he said. As of last night, 1.7 million Floridians voted by absentee ballot and 1.3 million voted in-person at the polls. By party, 655,020 Democrats and 791,324 Republicans voted by absentee ballot and 555,473 Democrats and 518,476 Republicans voted early in-person at the polls.

"Voters are very pleased to get out early and vote absentee," he said. "I think we might actually see some records in regards to the number of absentee ballots that were mailed and that we're seeing returned.

"By the time the polls close this evening, we should have a sizeable number of votes already counted because of legislative changes made in 2013," Detzner said, referring to fixes restoring more early voting after Florida's flawed 2012 election process.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division is monitoring polling locations in four Florida counties -- Duval, Hillsborough, Lee and Orange -- to ensure federal voting laws are followed. Detzner said these "observers" are present in 17 states, but stressed his confidence that the voting process has improved.

Given a governor's race too tight to predict, the state is ready for a recount, Detzner said. But the contest between Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Cristisn't the only challenge supervisors face this evening.

Several other tight races could require a recount, including the 2nd Congressional District race between Republican Steve Southerland and Democrat Gwen Grahamand the District 26 race where Miami Democrat Joe Garcia is battling Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo.

Continue reading "Ken Detzner: So far, no hitches at the polls on Election Day" »

October 12, 2014

Crist, Scott split on Medicaid expansion

As he gains momentum in the race for governor, Charlie Crist is driving a conversation on Medicaid expansion.

The Republican-turned-Democrat has become such a fervent supporter of the policy that he said he would consider using an executive order to get it done.

"A million Floridians are not getting the healthcare they need because of Rick Scott's lack of effort," Crist told the Herald/Times. "Florida deserves to have a governor who understands that this is affecting people’s lives."

Republican Gov. Rick Scott — who went from opposing Medicaid expansion to supporting it, albeit without ever really lobbying for it — hasn’t talked about the issue on the campaign trail.

But Scott said he was not surprised Crist would consider a using an executive order, drawing a comparison to the president.

"That is what President Obama does — refuses to work with legislators and just goes his own way and issues decrees," he said in a statement.

Observers say the issue may be key in the final weeks of the campaign. Read more here.

October 06, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Update on the Status of Women: Melissa Hagan has been appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

Hagan and her husband, Aaron, own Emerald Coast Interview Consulting, and she recently served as chief development Ooficer for Gulf Coast State College. Hagan, of Lynn Haven, is a former teacher, curriculum designer and caseworker for at-risk youth.

The Commission, established in 1991, makes recommendations to the legislature, governor and cabinet on issues affecting women.

Her term starts immediately and expires Oct. 1, 2017.

Connie Mack IV joins public relations firm:  The former Florida congressman and state representative has joined Levick, a Washington D.C.-based public relations & communications firm, as an executive vice president.

Mack will also lead Levick's expansion into Florida and will open the firm's Miami office.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

March 20, 2014

 

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Broward LGBT activists held a fundraiser March 19 at the home of Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis for Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

2014-03-19 Charlie Crist fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale 020After his five-minute speech, which you can watch here, Crist stated why electing him governor would be good for LGBT people in Florida:

"One of the most important things we can do is get a law on the books in Florida that recognizes the kind of things that President Obama is talking about. And that simply is why not have marriage equality throughout our country," Crist said.

"Certainly, we ought to have it in Florida and I believe that we win this election Nov. 4, we get some other progressives elected in the Florida House and Florida Senate, we’re going to have a great opportunity to get that done, and I look forward to the day we do."

Attendees included South Florida Gay News publisher Norm Kent; Florida Agenda publisher Bobby Blair; Ken Keechl, who's seeking to regain his Broward County Commission seat; former Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti; and Lauderdale Lakes Commissioner Commissioner Levoyd L. Williams, a state House candidate.

Crist’s Democratic rival is former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, a longtime LGBT rights advocate.

To view a photo gallery from the fundraiser, visit Steve Rothaus' Gay South Florida blog.

January 17, 2014

Hollingsworth: Top lobbyist doesn't influence Scott's handling of CONNECT

It was Jan. 8 when lobbyist Brian Ballard met with Adam Hollingsworth, Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff.

That’s not necessarily a freak event. Ballard, who served as the chair of Scott’s finance committee for his 2011 inauguration, is one of the most powerful lobbyists in Tallahassee, who bundles millions in campaign cash from clients for Scott and other Republicans.

What is noteworthy is what they discussed: Deloitte Consulting, a Ballard client.

Deloitte is the vendor of the state’s troubled $63 million CONNECT website, which since its debut in October has struggled with technical glitches, delaying unemployment benefits for thousands of recipients.

Since Dec. 20, Deloitte has been fined $15,000 a day until the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity deems the contractor to be in compliance with its contract.

The night before they met, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson requested that the U.S. Department of Labor investigate what has gone wrong with the website.  

On the day of the meeting, the DEO’s executive director, Jesse Panuccio, announced that another company, a rival that was beaten out for the job in 2010, was getting hired to consult on the project. Capgemini, a French company, would be paid $365,000 to serve as the state’s eyes and ears, looking over the shoulder of Deloitte programmers scrambling to fix the website.

Asked Friday about the meeting, Ballard wouldn’t comment, stating client confidentiality.

Continue reading "Hollingsworth: Top lobbyist doesn't influence Scott's handling of CONNECT" »

December 18, 2013

Problems with Rick Scott's unemployment site worse than reported

@mikevansickler

There’s no question the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity hasn’t been publicly forthcoming about problems with the CONNECT website.

But have DEO’s top officials failed to fully inform its own staff about problems with the $63 million site?

Yep, according to newly leaked documents that show problems with CONNECT system are much more extensive than officials have disclosed.

“The transition to CONNECT has been difficult and I know that, at times, the best you can do is ask claimants to be patient,” says a Dec. 13 email to DEO staffers from spokeswoman Monica Russell, on behalf of agency executive director Jesse Panuccio. “We are working very hard to find solutions to all identified solutions to all identified issues.”

What’s most striking about the e-mail: No concrete solutions are offered. What Russell (on behalf of Panuccio) says is most important is for the continued patience of staffers.

“Please know that I am aware of how hard everyone -- in Tallahassee, in Jacksonville, in Ft. Lauderdale -- is working, and I couldn’t be more appreciative,” the e-mail states. “Please continue to be unfailingly polite, and please continue to support each other as you encounter difficult situations.”

The email, perhaps unintentionally, acknowledges that staffers have been kept in the dark on the true extent of the problems plaguing the website. Apparently, the subject came up during Panuccio’s visit to a DEO office in Orlando earlier this month.

“One of the main concerns I heard centered around internal communications,” stated the Dec. 13 email. “You need to hear more about updates to the system more often so that you can communicate with claimants more effectively. We are going to fix that…We are committed to improving our communications with you by delivering accurate information in a timely manner.”

While sounding like a no-brainer management practice to most, it comes two months after the the launch of the website and is actually at odds with a directive two months ago.

Continue reading "Problems with Rick Scott's unemployment site worse than reported" »

December 12, 2013

With broad support for cut in auto fees, now it's a matter of "How much"?

It's no surprise that Gov. Rick Scott has plenty of support among legislative leaders for his plan to announce in Tampa this afternoon his proposal to cut auto registration fees in next year's budget.

After all, the Senate's plan to do the same, SB 156 , has picked up strong support and looks like an easy sell in next year's legislative session, which begins in March. 

But there is a big difference between the two. Scott wants to cut auto registration fees by $401 million. The senate bill, which is sponsored by budget chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, only slashes them by $233 million. Though lawmakers are expected to be facing a surplus of $1 billion, that $168 million difference between the two plans is no small thing.

Yet so far, at least, Republican leaders are shrugging that this difference won't be too difficult to bridge.

Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he was happy that Scott was supporting the car fee reduction while downplaying the differences.

"We welcome the governor getting on Joe Negron's bandwagon," Gaetz said. "He's pushing it a little bit faster, but that's good."

Gaetz said it's too early to dwell on details of where the money will come from. In Negron's bill, the money to pay for the cuts would come from general revenue. He said estimated revenue, while overall promising, has been shifting too much to propose specifics details just yet. But Gaetz did suggest that Negron's bill could be changed, perhaps to include a bigger break for motorists.

For instance, Gaetz said the $225 "origination fee" that motorists pay to put new cars on the road could be reduced. To do so, however, might cost another $100 million. 

"We can make Negron's bill even stronger," he said. "There's a chance for Negron 2.0."

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford said he, too, was supportive of Scott's proposal to reduce fees.

"The governor's plan, Negron's bill, it's all good stuff," Weatherfood said. "It's just a question of 'How much?' We'll work with the governor and Pres. Gaetz to get a number that everyone will agree with."