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.

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December 18, 2013

Problems with Rick Scott's unemployment site worse than reported


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.

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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."



November 01, 2013

GOP file ethics complaint against Charlie Crist

A top Republican Party of Florida strategist filed a complaint Friday with the Florida Elections Commission alleging that Charlie Crist has violated state campaign law by accepting contributions before officially becoming a candidate.

In a seven-page complaint, Tim Saler attached screen shots of Crist’s campaign logo and website, charliecrist.com. They were dated Thursday, Oct. 31. Crist didn't file to run until Friday. Crist named Sanford Horwitz, a Coral Gables CPA as his campaign treasurer. 

“It would seem impossible that the candidate logo and website were created without Mr. Crist making an expenditure (or accepting a contribution) to do so,” Saler said in the complaint. “If someone other than Mr. Crist created the candidate logo and website, something of value has been created that should be treated as a contribution to Mr. Crist’s campaign for Governor.”

Saler said Crist was in violation of Florida Statute 106.021

Serious complaint or a political stunt? 

Read it for yourself: Download Cristcomplaint

September 11, 2013

Scott's Voter Purge Part II hits the road in October

Let the purge begin again.

Gov. Rick Scott promised that he would once again hunt for non-citizens on state voter rolls, and on Wednesday afternoon, his top elections officials released public details about taking the first steps toward another pruning effort.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced in a statement that he would begin a roundtable discussion with the state’s 67 supervisor of elections in a series of five public meetings across the state in October. (Sorry Tampa Bay and Miami-Dade, the closest meetings are in Sarasota and Ft. Lauderdale.)

Called “Project Integrity”, the meetings will be an opportunity for Detzner to hear from supervisors about how to conduct another purge.

“I am embarking on the Project Integrity roundtable tour to collaborate with Supervisors to protect the integrity of our voter rolls,” Detzner said in the statement.

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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.

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July 29, 2013

Askew offers reflections in ceremony at Old Capitol

Former Gov. Reubin Askew was honored Monday for his positive influences on politics and education at an event held at his old stomping grounds: the restored Senate chamber in the historic Old Capitol in Tallahassee.

"I spent a little time in this room," said Askew, who was a senator from 1962 to 1970, when voters elected him governor. He was the first governor in the state's history to serve two terms, and was a leader in tax reform, openness in government, race relations and strengthening the judiciary.

Askew, a Democrat, later served as President Jimmy Carter's trade representative, ran unsuccessfully for president in 1984 and has spent the past two decades teaching about government in the university system. Next month he'll begin his final year of teaching, and he turns 85 in September.

A group of graduate students in applied American politics and policy at Askew's alma mater, Florida State University, honored him for his contributions, and the former governor touched on a variety of topics in a long and sometimes rambling speech.

* On the role of government in society: "No one ever said government had all the answers. I never felt that, even when I was there. What government has is the responsibility to bring people together who do know what they are talking about."

* On his long-shot bid for the presidency: "I was 'Reubin who?' and when I got done two years later, you know what they called me? Reubin Who."

* On the state's newest university, Florida Polytech in Lakeland: "Nor have I been to Polk County Polytechnical. I'm not sure, Mr. President (Gaetz), what that is now."

* On the influence of lobbyists: "You have many very vocal people in government, and they themselves want their way. When you drive around Tallahassee, who owns the most beautiful homes? Not me. I'm out at Westminster Oaks (an assisted-living facility)."

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, gave a solid speech that summarized Askew's career and joked about "the rumor" that Askew may run for governor again.

"We have a plan for Alex Sink, Charlie Crist, Nan Rich and Bill Nelson, and the cards are on the table," Gaetz said. "But we wouldn't stand a chance if Reubin Askew ran for governor again. So, please, sir, don't get any ideas."

-- Steve Bousquet

July 01, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New Duke Energy CEO takes charge

Lynn Good takes over on Monday as the new CEO, president and vice chairman of Duke Energy, which serves 1.6 million customers in Florida. Good, 54, has been the utility’s executive vice president and CFO since July 2009.

She succeeds Jim Rogers, who will continue as chairman of the board until his retirement on Dec. 31. The North Carolina-based Duke Energy merged with Progress Energy last year to become the nation’s largest electric-power holding company in the United States, with more than $110 billion in assets

Florida Supreme Court picks new clerk

Technologically savvy attorney John A. Tomasino has been selected as the Court’s next clerk. He’ll replace Thomas D. Hall, who will retire in October after being in the job for more than 13 years. Tomasino, who is administrative director of the Public Defender's Office in the Second Judicial Circuit, starts his new job on Nov. 1.

CFO names new communications director

Chris Cate has been named the communications director for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, starting on July 8th.

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June 26, 2013

Lawyer group challenge speedy executions

Lawyers representing death row inmates filed suit with the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday in an attempt to invalidate parts of a law that Gov. Rick Scott signed two weeks ago that would speed executions.

The suit, filed by the public agency Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, called "The Timely Justice Act" a legislative overreach that takes away the judiciary's "efforts to shape, and authority to govern, the means and method of capital postconviction litigation." It named Attorney General Pam Bondi as the defendant.

The new law requires governors to sign death warrants 30 days after the Florida Supreme Court certifies that an inmate has exhausted all legal appeals. Once a death warrant is signed, the execution must take place within six months. The bill passed 84-34 in the House and 28-10 in the Senate. The new law will accelerate the fate of at least 13 of the 404 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals. If Scott signs the death warrants on the 13 eligible inmates, and their executions followed, he would be on a pace to put to death 21 people since taking office in January 2011. The only other governor who executed that many people was former Gov. Jeb Bush, who ordered the execution of 21 convicted killers over an eight-year period.  

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the accelerated pace, calling it the result of an “abrupt whirlwind of political maneuvering." Scheduled to go into effect on Monday, the law would violate the Separation of Powers by requiring “constitutional officers of the judicial and executive branches” to take immediate actions because of the legislative action, according to the suit. It also claimed the law suspends the writ of habeas corpus, violates due process by interfering with judicial resolution of constitutional claims, and will result in cruel and unusual punishments “contrary to evolving standards of decency.”

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June 24, 2013

Movers & Shakers

Fort Lauderdale attorney becomes Florida Bar's first African-American president

Eugene K. Pettis will be sworn in as the 65th and first African American president of the 96,000-member Florida Bar at its annual convention Friday at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.

Pettis, a civil trial attorney, is a founding member of Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. He joined the Bar's Board of Governors in 2005 and has served on the Board of Governors’ executive committee.

Pettis attended Stranahan High School and received both his bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Florida.

West Palm Beach attorney Gregory W. Coleman will become president-elect of the Bar during the Friday assembly as well. A partner with Burman, Critton, Luttier & Coleman, he becomes president of the Bar in June 2014.

Coleman, who is a Miami native, received his  bachelor’s and law degrees from Stetson University. He served this year on the Bar’s Board of Governors’ Budget, Communications and Program Evaluation committees.

Florida health trade group seeking new CEO

The Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc., a trade association representing Florida’s health plans,  has formed a search committee to replace Michael Garner, the association’s president and CEO.

Garner is resigning after nearly five years with the association to become vice president of government relations with Amerigroup Florida, Inc., as part of an expanded government relations team. His resignation is effective July 2013.

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