December 04, 2012

CFO Jeff Atwater, Gov. Rick Scott settle 'Taj Mahal' art case, agree to pay Signature Art Gallery

After two years, two lawsuits and seven appeals, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Gov.Rick Scott on Tuesday agreed to pay Signature Art Gallery for framed photos ordered by judges at the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Instead of the $357,000 tab due when the photographs were completed, the state will pay almost $515,000, a price that includes storage and legal fees paid by the gallery owner.

The payment must be approved by members of the Legislative Budget Commission at a meeting in January. Once paid for, the art will go to the Department of State’s Division of Cultural Affairs. If the Commission rejects the payment, the lawsuit will continue.

Scott  and Atwater said the settlement, helped along by court-ordered mediation, is in the state’s best interest. It will end expensive litigation and safeguard taxpayer money while also signaling that the state’s contracting system “must be cost effective, accountable and transparent,’’ the two officials said in a joint release.

The settlement was announced Tuesday, the day Atwater had been scheduled to answer questions under oath from lawyers who represent the gallery and Peter R. Brown Construction of Clearwater.

More here.

Lucy Morgan, Times senior correspondent

November 29, 2012

CFO Jeff Atwater tells insurers to stop whining, reduce PIP premiums

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Thursday that it’s time for insurance companies to stop complaining and to lower premiums to reflect changes to the no-fault car insurance laws.

“I am comfortable that if assaults on the courts are unsuccessful and the bill can stand there will be more than 25 percent savings,” Atwater said. “We don’t have to gnash about it, argue about it, whine about it or cry about it.”

Under the old system, the average personal injury protection insurance claim is $12,900, Atwater said during a presentation at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Insurance Summit. That included $4,400 in acupuncture, $3,700 for massage therapy, $3,200 to chiropractors and $1,600 for emergency room costs.

The new law, HB 119, restricts acupuncturists and massage therapists from participating in PIP and requires people injured in a car accident to be diagnosed with an emergency medical condition before they are eligible for the full $10,000 benefit.

“We just eliminated 68 percent of that cost,” Atwater told the group.

Read more here.

November 28, 2012

Six appeals filed in 'Taj Mahal' case

The Florida Supreme Court has assigned the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach to hear appeals in a squabble over an unpaid $357,000 bill for framed photos ordered for the new 1st District Court of Appeal building in Tallahassee.

Six interlocutory appeals have been filed in a heavily lawyered civil suit filed by Signature Gallery, a small Tallahassee business that contracted with Peter R. Brown Construction to frame and hang 369 historic photographs in the halls of the new courthouse.

Chief Judge Robert Benton asked the high court to send the cases to a panel of judges who do not have offices in the new courthouse.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and his predecessor Alex Sink refused to pay the bill saying no money was appropriated by the Legislature that could legally be spent on photos. They have also questioned whether the photos should be considered art. Under state law expenditures for art cannot legally exceed $100,000 and the court has already spent about $150,000 on oil paintings and other framed photos for the grandiose courthouse building.

Story here.

November 27, 2012

CFO Jeff Atwater must testify in 'Taj Mahal' case

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater will have to answer questions under oath in a lawsuit filed by the owner of a Tallahassee art gallery that was never paid for  framed photographs valued at more than $357,000 for the new 1st District Court of Appeal.

Attorneys for Atwater asked Leon Circuit Judge Charles A. Francis to prohibit lawyers for Signature Art Gallery and Peter R Brown Construction Co. of Clearwater from questioning Atwater saying he is a constitutional officer who cannot be forced to testify. But Francis ruled he must testify.

Michael H. Davidson, lawyer for Atwater, indicated he will appeal the judge’s decision and seek a delay in any attempt to question Atwater.

A three-day nonjury trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 17.

Story here.

June 28, 2012

Atwater's staff snagged in errant CNN and Fox News report

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s press shop got snagged in an embarrassing retraction Thursday after an errant CNN and Fox News report that the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act had been overturned. 

As Atwater was meeting with Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi in a quarterly clemency meeting, his communications office pressed the button at 10:10 a.m. on the wrong press release that had been prepared in advance.

“Today’s landmark ruling by the Supreme Court upholds two distinctly American principles outlined in our Constitution—individual freedom and limited government,’’ Atwater was quoted as saying.

Four minutes later, they sent out a new one: “Please regard previous healthcare statement.”

Alexis Lambert, spokeswoman for Atwater, said the CFO didn’t know any of it was happening.

“We reacted to the initial report from CNN and Fox News and then recalled it within a minute,’’ Lambert said.

June 27, 2012

Atwater hopes to reform flawed contracting process by exposing it to sunlight

Florida will spend $47 billion this year hiring outsiders to provide goods and services for the state but hundreds of the contractors will not be required to show they provided services they agreed to and their documentation will be rife with errors.

Those are the conclusions of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater after a sample audit of the 24,000 state contracts at 33 different agencies found that 35 percent were flawed.

At stake, he said: "Hundreds of millions of dollars" of the state's $70 billion budget, 67 percent of which is outsourced. 

On Wednesday, Atwater unveiled a new web site that details most of the state's contracts so the public can determine if they are being held accountable for the services they are offering. The goal, he said, is to put the heat on the flawed contracting system by turning the public into watchdogs and inviting more competitors to the table.

Continue reading "Atwater hopes to reform flawed contracting process by exposing it to sunlight" »

April 23, 2012

Fla. notches $40 million insurance settlement with MetLife

The state of Florida, along with several other states, has reached a $40 million settlement with a group of MetLife insurance companies over allegations of life insurance improprieties. All of that money is being used to pay for the states' investigation, but consumers may receive more than $500 million in other payments. 

Consumers may benefit from new business practices that MetLife has agreed to use moving forward.

MetLife had apparently been using the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File to check to see if a policyholder has died only in cases where such a death would be beneficial to the insurance company. For example, MetLife allegedly used this Master File to stop annuity payments to deceased clients, but did not use it to issue life insurance payments to beneficiaries of the insured. 

Continue reading "Fla. notches $40 million insurance settlement with MetLife" »

Florida Senate-race drama exposes GOP jitters

Jeff Atwater’s just-ended flirtation with a U.S. Senate bid speaks volumes about the nervousness of Florida Republicans these days.

The GOP’s best hope, Congressman Connie Mack, hasn’t been running the type of campaign many Republicans want to unseat a beatable Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. Some wanted Atwater, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, to run. Others approached House Speaker Dean Cannon, who declined as did a wealthy no-name.

But the drama is about more than just Mack or the Senate race.

It’s about a Republican Party grappling with ebbing fortunes compared to the red-wave of an election year in 2010. It’s about a movement nagged by a sense of perpetual disappointment that stretches to the top of the ticket.

And it’s about the potentially colliding political agendas of Atwater, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Column here

April 21, 2012

After "hard look," FL CFO Jeff Atwater decides he will not run for U.S. Senate

It costs too much money, too much political capital and too much time for risk-averse FL CFO Jeff Atwater to run for U.S. Senate (told yall this was not likely to happen, remember?). He announced today on Facebook that he wouldn't enter the race. It takes a pickaxe to get to the point in his statement:

"Only slightly a year into this role I continue to feel blessed to be serving as your financial watchdog of government spending and I see so many more ways that I can serve you in this present capacity. As much as Carole and I are humbled by your calls, notes and messages to enter the US Senate race and carry our banner into the fight we believe we have a responsibility to finish the job Floridians elected us to do."

That means the GOP primary is Mack's to lose. George LeMieux is struggling mightily.

Here's the whole thing:

Friends, for asking and encouraging us to run as your candidate for the US Senate, thank you. Together we share an inspired vision for the future of America that is rooted in the founding documents of our country. Conservative principles of limited government that honors the talent, hard work and sacrifice of every American to pursue their dreams and create a purposeful life for themselves and their family. We also share a deep concern over the direction of our country and with those who believe that more taxes, more spending and more debt to fund bigger, intrusive and centralized government to plan and pamper our lives is destroying the American Character. We must fight for the future of our country. The time is now and the battleground is Florida.

Carole and I and our entire family traveled with you across Florida for sixteen months to ask for and receive your confidence and the high honor of serving as your Chief Financial Officer. For just over a year now we have been at the task of reducing your taxes, reducing your debt and creating an environment for Floridians to succeed on the paths they have chosen. Only slightly a year into this role I continue to feel blessed to be serving as your financial watchdog of government spending and I see so many more ways that I can serve you in this present capacity. As much as Carole and I are humbled by your calls, notes and messages to enter the US Senate race and carry our banner into the fight we believe we have a responsibility to finish the job Floridians elected us to do.

I promise you this, I will be with you and I will work at your side between now and November to see that Florida elects a United States Senator committed to our founding principles of freedom and liberty which has produced a prosperity never before achieved on this planet and which has inspired people across the globe. Let us press onward and see that Florida does it's part to preserve and advance this exceptional Constitutional Republic in the spirit of what Abraham Lincoln knew to be, "the last best hope on earth." Jeff

 

 

April 18, 2012

Connie Mack III doesn't like the way we cover Connie Mack IV

Former Senator and lobbyist Connie Mack III is complaining in a fundraising-pitch letter about the way we cover his son, Connie Mack IV, in the U.S. Senate race. He complains about a recent story about Mack's struggles (no mention of Jeff Atwater) and falsely accuses us of unspecified "unprofessional behavior."

Adam C. Smith has it in the Buzz blog (download problems on this end right now). Here's a link, though, to all the recent Connie Mack blogs and articles.