January 15, 2015

Scott admin didn't save records from former employees, but tells court it's not gov's fault

Gov. Rick Scott has sent a warning to his former employees: you’re on your own when it comes to defending yourself in court over lost public records.

In a response to a lawsuit filed in circuit court in Tallahassee accusing the governor of intentionally hiding public documents, the governor’s legal counsel argued that the governor’s office has done its part to turn over the records sought in the lawsuit and, if there are more records to turn over, it’s not their fault.

The argument was made as part of a response to an amended complaint filed by Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews, accusing the governor of failing to turn over text message and emails about public business conducted on private email accounts of more than 40 former employees.

Andrews is asking the court to order the governor’s office to produce records, which he wants as part of a lawsuit relating to a property dispute, and is asking the court to order the governor to use a forensic technician to retrieve documents that may have been improperly deleted.

It is a bit of a catch-22 for the departed staffers of the governor, ranging from his former deputy chiefs of staff to his office interns. Many of them were instructed by Scott’s former chiefs of staff to use private accounts and cell phones to conduct public business via text message and email.

Under state law, and governor’s office Code of Personal Responsibility, they were required to turn over those records when they left the governor’s office and forwarded to the records custodian to be archived.

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Putnam sends mixed-signals on Bailey exit


Now that the exit of Gerald Bailey from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has caused a media firestorm, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam is suddenly concerned that he wasn’t properly informed.

He told the Times/Herald on Wednesday that Gov. Rick Scott’s office mishandled the ouster of Bailey and that law enforcement officials around the state knew first hand of his “frustration.”

In Wednesday’s interview with Times/Herald capital bureau chief Steve Bousquet, Putnam suggested that his office was misled by Scott’s office about the true intentions with the FDLE shakeup.

“We were given a heads-up on a staff level that there was an interest in making changes going into the second term, including at FDLE,” Putnam told Bousquet on Wednesday. “Period. That’s all that was conveyed to me.

"The manner in which it was handled was not known to me and not at all how it should have been handled."

All fine and good, but where was Putnam’s concern when he was asked about it after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting?

After voting for Bailey’s replacement, Putnam was asked straight-up if he had been told about Bailey’s resignation or that he had been forced out.

Putnam didn’t show any surprise or concern, and instead avoided responding to the question.

Check it out on video.

On Tuesday, the Times/Herald even asked Putnam's spokeswoman, Erin Gillespie, for clarification about where Putnam stood on the issue of Bailey leaving, but never heard back. 

Which Putnam should we believe? The one who on Tuesday would rather change the subject or not bother to respond to the media? Or the one on Wednesday who said Scott’s office didn’t handle it appropriately?

Perhaps Putnam, who is constantly rumored to be a lock for the state's next governor, could help us out on this puzzle.

“If Adam Putnam believes he was misled he should call for a reconvening of the Cabinet to discuss and vote on Bailey’s termination,” CFO Alex Sink told the Times/Herald in an e-mail. “He can then put in the record whether he supported Bailey or not!”

UPDATE: Coincidence? HNTB Corp. gets DOT contract two days after hiring Prasad


(UPDATE: FDOT spokesman Dick Kane said late Thursday that Prasad "had no role in this procurement." He said the contract was was awarded after two internal committees reviewed the bids for the job, which was advertised on Aug. 11. He said the selection of HNTB was not Thursday, as announced by the firm, but on Oct. 13, when Prasad was still FDOT secretary. But Kane said Prasad had no oversight of the committees and didn't steer the contract to his future employer in any way while he was secretary. "Again, he had no role in it," Kane said. HNTB for the next three years will provide consulting to the FDOT about how the state can prepare for autonomous vehicles, or driverless cars.) 

Timing really is everything.

Just two days after the engineering firm HNTB Corp. announced it had hired former Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad, the DOT's central office selected HNTB for a three-year contract. 

What optics.

HNTB announced on Tuesday that Prasad was to "develop and direct strategies that enhance HNTB’s service to state departments of transportation across the country," including Florida. It picked the right guy, considering that Prasad resigned from the FDOT in December after serving as secretary since 2010.

Before getting hired by the FDOT, Prasad had been vice president of HNTB. And before working for HNTB as its vice president, Prasad had served as assistant secretary for engineering and operations for, yes, the FDOT.

For those keeping score at home, Prasad's resume reads: FDOT ==> HNTB ==> FDOT ==> HNTB. Two days after he rejoins HNTB, FDOT hires HNTB for big new contract.

Here's how HNTB announced its good fortune:

Florida Department of Transportation’s Central Office selects 
HNTB Corporation for automated vehicle support

Infrastructure firm will assist Florida as the state establishes itself as an industry leader


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Jan. 15, 2015) – The Central Office of the Florida Department of Transportation has selected HNTB Corporation for a three-year automated vehicle support contract.

“Florida is one of a handful of states leading the way toward a future where cars talk with one another, the roadway and eventually drive themselves,” said Mike Inabinet, HNTB Southeast Division president. “Connected and automated vehicles will inform drivers and transportation users, making travel safer and more efficient. HNTB is proud to support the Sunshine State as it moves forward with national and international partners and explores how the car of the future will work and be deployed, developing curriculum to nurture local talent, as well as attracting new businesses and innovators to Florida.”

HNTB will support FDOT by working directly with auto manufacturers, related original equipment manufacturers and suppliers on pilot projects, working with universities on automated vehicle research projects, and developing policy to move forward with application testing.

“Big changes on are the horizon for the driving public and those of us in the transportation industry,” said Jim Barbaresso, HNTB national practice leader for intelligent transportation systems (ITS). “With automated and connected vehicles being integrated into the marketplace over the next decade, it is foreseeable that available roadway capacity can be greatly increased without adding another inch of pavement.”

“And, because automated and connected vehicles have faster reaction times and are not prone to distracted or impaired driving, there could be a tremendous decrease in vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities as well,” he added. “Florida is setting the bar for other states across the nation.”

HNTB’s ITS work in Florida also includes consulting with the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority as it plans fulfilling its role as an affiliate test bed for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Connected Vehicle Test Bed program, in this case along the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

The firm is a recognized leader in the ITS industry, with extensive experience developing transportation, toll and emergency operations centers; traffic management systems; and conducting the latest infrastructure and connected vehicle research. Since 2005, HNTB has been involved in a growing number of projects related to the national Connected Vehicle initiative, including designing and building one of the first live test beds with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

HNTB Corporation is an employee-owned infrastructure solutions firm serving public and private owners and construction contractors. Now celebrating a century of service in the U.S. and 60 years in Florida, HNTB continues to grow in size and service offerings to clients from 13 regular office locations, currently employing approximately 380 full-time professionals in the state. HNTB understands the life cycle of infrastructure and addresses clients’ most complex technical, financial and operational challenges. Professionals nationwide deliver a full range of infrastructure-related services, including award-winning planning, design, program management and construction management. For more information, visit www.hntb.com.

Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes' attorney says she won't run

Should Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes retire her attorney says she won’t run for the seat.

Snipes, 71, told the Herald on Monday that hasn’t decided whether she will seek re-election in 2016 and has no timeline to make up her mind.

Rumors have been swirling about who will run if Snipes does retire, but some of those individuals have said the rumors are wrong including Snipes’ attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks.

“No ma’am, I’m not running,” Norris-Weeks told the Herald today. “You can stop calling me about that -- I’m never running. I’ve said it a thousand different ways. I have no intentions of running.”

Political consultant David Brown told the Herald he might run (www.browardbeat.com reported that previously). Brown lost a race for supervisor in 2000 when Miriam Oliphant won. Click here to read about the responses from other rumored contenders including state Sen. Eleanor Sobel.


Marco Rubio calls eased restrictions 'windfall' for Cuba


Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio swiftly hammered the Obama administration's announcement Thursday that travel and trade restrictions toward Cuba will be loosened beginning Friday:

"This is a windfall for the Castro regime that will be used to fund its repression against Cubans, as well as its activities against U.S. national interests in Latin America and beyond. Given existing U.S. laws about our Cuba policy, this slew of regulations leave at least one major question President Obama and his administration have failed to answer so far: what legal authority does he have to enrich the Castro regime in these ways?   

“Yesterday I requested answers from Secretary Lew on how this new Cuba policy would be implemented without violating the letter and spirit of several U.S. laws, and without increasing the moral and financial risk to the American taxpayer and financial system of doing business through Cuba’s government-controlled financial system. While those questions remain unanswered, one thing that’s become even more crystal clear today is that this one-sided deal is enriching a tyrant and his regime at the expense of U.S. national interests and the Cuban people."

Scott to recommend $100 million for charter-school construction

Gov. Rick Scott wants to give charter schools $100 million for construction and maintenance.

He will make the announcement Thursday while visiting Sports Leadership and Management Academy charter school in Miami. The school is run by the for-profit management company Academica, and counts the rapper Pitbull among its founders.

The current state budget includes $75 million for charter-school construction.

Charter schools receive public funding, but are run by private governing boards.

Earlier in the week, Scott said he would like to see lawmakers increase the statewide K-12 education budget from $18.9 billion to $19.75 billion. His recommendation includes $7,716 per student, a record high not accounting for inflation.

He is expected to release the rest of his budget proposal later this month.

Looser Cuba travel, trade restrictions to take effect Friday


New rules that will make it easier to travel to Cuba - and bring back Cuban cigars - will go into effect Friday, less than a month after President Barack Obama announced plans to restore long-severed diplomatic ties with the communist-led island.

The new Treasury and Commerce Department regulations -- to be published Friday in the Federal Register -- include making it easier to travel to Cuba and raising the limits on how much money can be sent to Cuba.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the changes a “significant step forward” in carrying out Obama’s new policy.

“These changes will immediately enable the American people to provide more resources to empower the Cuban population to become less dependent upon the state-driven economy, and help facilitate our growing relationship with the Cuban people,” Earnest said in a statement.

The new regulations are here and here.

The changes will mean that travelers who meet certain categories will no longer need to apply for a license to travel to Cuba. The categories include family visits, official U.S. or foreign governments, journalistic, professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; private foundations or research or educational institutes; export, import, or transmission of information.

More here.

Republicans set 2016 convention for July 18-21 in Cleveland

From Cleveland.com ... 

Republicans have booked their date with Cleveland.

The party's 2016 convention will start Monday, July 18, the Republican National Committee announced Wednesday from its winter meetings in San Diego.

The four-day event will end with a presidential nominee Thursday, July 21.

"I'm pleased to announce the 2016 Republican National Convention will kick off on July 18," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in an emailed statement.  "A convention in July is a historic success for our party and future nominee.


January 14, 2015

Blind trust law comes under fire before appeals court

Did the Florida Legislature violate the state’s financial disclosure law when it allowed public officials to shield their assets in a blind trust?

Lawyers for Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott say the answer is no, and they made that argument Wednesday before the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

The reason: the state’s Sunshine Amendment to the constitution allows lawmakers to write the rules that govern what constitute “full and public” disclosure of financial assets, even if it means shielding some assets from public view, they argued.

But lawyers for Jim Apthorp, the former chief of staff to the late Gov. Reubin Askew, disagreed.

"The Sunshine Amendment starts off with the words, 'A public office is a public trust,' " said Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, a former Democratic state representative who helped pass the amendment. "We may not have a blind trust which conceals, not reveals, what the financial interests are of a public official.”

The debate is at the core of the lawsuit brought by Apthorp, asking the court to overturn a portion of the 2013 ethics law, which allows public officials to to create a blind trust in lieu of revealing their assets on a financial disclosure form.

Apthorp initially asked the Florida Supreme Court to ban Secretary of State Ken Detzner from accepting the qualifying papers of any candidate using a blind trust. The court asked a trial court to decide the case, and in July Leon County Circuit Court Judge James Cooper ruled that the law was constitutional. Apthorp appealed.

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Are Democrats recruiting Annette Taddeo to run for Congress again?

National Democrats may once again encourage Annette Taddeo to run for Congress in South Florida.

According to The Hill, Taddeo was spotted in Washington this week meeting with the Democratic Congressional Committee, which is looking for candidates to challenge Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in 2016.

Taddeo was in D.C. Tuesday and Wednesday meeting with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), DCCC Recruitment Chairman Denny Heck (Wash.), Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), a House Democratic official told The Hill. 

While Taddeo was in town, she also met with several other Florida Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel and Kathy Castor, as she weighs a congressional bid. 

Taddeo is a former lieutenant governor candidate -- she ran last year with Charlie Crist -- who lost to Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2008. She also ran unsuccessfully for Miami-Dade County Commission in 2010.

National Republicans pounced on the nugget of news, sending reporters an email titled, "Back to the Future IV Starring Annette Taddeo."

"Annette Taddeo's track record of running for a multitude of different offices demonstrates that she is motivated solely by her blind political ambition," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Chris Pack said in a statement.

Taddeo told the Miami Herald last year that she would make up her mind early in 2015 about whether to run for office again -- and whether to run for Congress or some other position, such as county mayor.