January 23, 2015

'Daddy,' womanizing assistant warden, axed at troubled prison

@jknipebrown

Each day, the female inmates at Lowell Correctional Institution would line up at the back gate waiting to talk to "Daddy."

In the afternoons, the prisoners would take turns visiting his office, passing him slips of paper and asking for favors like special bunk assignments, chocolates or time to liaison with their female partners.

Assistant Warden Marty Martinez had so many women who wanted to spend time with him that it not only interfered with the daily operation of the facility, it caused jealous fights for his attention among inmates, according to an investigation by the Department of Corrections released Thursday.

Lowell corrections officers told the department's investigators that they were overruled, punished — and, in one case, even threatened — when they tried to discipline any of Martinez’s favorites.

Martinez, who was fired last week, is among 44 prison staff across the state who have been dismissed since new DOC Secretary Julie Jones took the helm of the embattled agency on Jan. 5.

"The Department has zero tolerance for misconduct of any kind," department spokesman McKinley Lewis said in a written statement Thursday, adding that Martinez "failed to conduct himself in a professional manner and acted inappropriately toward staff and inmates."

Lowell has been in the spotlight since October, when 36-year-old inmate Latandra Ellington was found dead just 10 days after writing her family a letter alleging that a Lowell corrections officer — she knew him only as “Sgt. Q” — had repeatedly threatened to beat and kill her.

Read more here.

The big news out of Miami-Dade: a new procurement chief is coming

@doug_hanks

Bill Johnson, Miami-Dade's former ports chief, got tapped for a big, high-profile state job on Thursday: the top corporate recruiter for Gov. Rick Scott as the new CEO of Enterprise Florida. 

But among the insiders in Miami-Dade County, the bigger news was the reset of leadership in the county's lucrative contracting system. 

Johnson current job is head of the Water and Sewer department, a post he took last year on his way to a mandatory retirement date this summer. He's credited with resolving a bottleneck for a management contract of an upcoming $1.6 billion upgrade of the sewer system. 

With the actual sewage work still up for grabs, Water and Sewer remains a top target of the county's lobbying industry as contractors maneuver for the business. Mayor Carlos Gimenez took no time naming Johnson's successor, announcing on Thursday he would shuttle veteran administrator Lester Sola over from Internal Services to Water and Sewer. 

The move shut down any pressure that might have built to conduct a national search for Johnson's replacement, and installs a sewer chief who is already close with Gimenez and elected commissioners. And he's plugged in with the big players in the county's legal and lobbying circles.

 Sola's transfer sets up the next closely-watched hire: his replacement at Internal Services. The department manages the county's facilities (including downtown's civil courthouse, target of a heated debate over how to replace it) and also the procurement process for outsourcing county services. The lobbying industry largely revolves around procurement, so the Internal Services appointment has high stakes for certain insiders.

It took a day for names to start circulating for Sola's successor.  Among them: Kevin Lynskey, deputy director at Port Miami; Miriam Singer, a Sola deputy who frequently appears before commissioners as the county's chief  procurement officer; and Tara Smith, an assistant director at Internal Services. 

More avoidance from Scott on FDLE questions

Since revelations surfaced on Jan. 13 about his removal of Gerald Bailey from the Department of Law Enforcement, Gov. Rick Scott has avoided answering questions from reporters in any meaningful detail.

Reporters had another fleeting chance to ask him questions Friday when he was in Miramar during a 10 a.m. news conference to tout SeaLand’s grand opening.

He took only three questions from reporters before leaving.

Here’s what he said about the FDLE situation.

"It’s disappointing what's happened,” Scott told reporters. "The facts are this. I believe we should continue to look at all our management teams, all of our agencies, always look to see if we can bring in people with fresh ideas, new energy. Gerald Bailey stepped down last month in December, waited until a new commissioner was approved by all the cabinets, then he started his nasty attacks. It's not fair to the individuals at FDLE who are doing a great job."

So, again, Scott is not saying that he forced Bailey to resign or whether he supports calls from Cabinet members for a third-party investigation.

Perhaps Scott will say more to reporters at 2 p.m. Friday when he’s scheduled to appear in Winter Park to make an announcement

Stay tuned.... 

-- w/ Herald staff writer Rebecca Savransky

Is online voter registration the 'more secure' method?

Florida lawmakers have overhauled many aspects of our elections laws in recent years, but one aspect has remained untouched: Voters can’t register online.

The statewide association of elections supervisors, which represents officials in both major parties, wants lawmakers to change that during the upcoming session. Supporters of the legislation argue one of the benefits is that it’s more secure.

"This is actually just simply a more secure, accurate and cost-efficient way of doing voter registration," said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said at a Senate Ethics and Elections committee hearing Jan. 20. Clemens is sponsoring a bill for the upcoming session. 

Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley, a Republican in favor of online registration, made similar remarks at the hearing. Citing information from a former elections official in Arizona -- the first state to use online registration -- Corley said that "there is a reduction in fraud."

Is online registration more secure? PolitiFact Florida decided to check it out. (One point omitted due to space in this fact-check: Both Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and Miami-Dade Supervisor Penelope Townsley support the addition of online voter registration.)

 

Scott plan doesn't address disparities in Bright Futures scholarship program

ScottGov. Rick Scott on Thursday proposed spending $23.5 million to expand Bright Futures scholarships, but did not address recent criticism of the program — namely, that new eligibility standards put in place to control costs have kept thousands of low-income and minority students from receiving the awards.

Scott’s plan would direct new money to help students with Bright Futures scholarships pay for summer courses.

"By expanding Bright Futures scholarships to include summer courses, we are offering more flexibility for students to achieve their goals," said Scott, who held a press conference at the University of North Florida to announce his plans.

Board of Governors Chairman Morteza Hosseini said the proposal would help students finish their degrees faster, "reducing their debt and quickening their entry into the state workforce."

But Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, called it "odd."

"I haven't heard any constituents complaining about not having access to summer school," Rodríguez said. "What I have been hearing is that students at Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University who would have been eligible for Bright Futures scholarships [under the old standards] are no longer eligible."

Read more here.

Zogby online GOP-voter poll: Bush and Rubio tied at 13%, trail Romney at 16%

@MarcACaputo

Zogby Analytics, which conducts online surveys (note: they're controversial/experimental), is out with a new poll. From its website: 

A new Zogby Analytics of likely Republican primary voters shows that the 2012 nominee is in the lead for 2016, but only three points ahead of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current Florida Senator Marco Rubio.The poll of 223 likely primary voters was conducted online January 16-18 and has a margin of sampling error of +/-6.6 percentage points.

Romney is on top with support from 16% of the voters, followed by Bush and Rubio with 13% each. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is next with 11%, followed by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee with 9%, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at 6%, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindahl with 4%, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz all at 3%. Other names included South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez, and former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum --- all receiving less than 1%.

At South Beach pow-wow, Marco Rubio's team looks like White House campaign-in-waiting

@MarcACaputo

6a00d83451b26169e201b7c71e57ae970bIn another sign of his White House ambitions, Sen. Marco Rubio hosts an election-strategy powwow today at the Delano Hotel with a finance team that looks like a presidential campaign-in-waiting.

None of the new major financiers of "Team Marco 2016" has deep Florida ties, a sign that his re-election for his Florida U.S. Senate seat in 2016 is looking more toward Pennsylvania Avenue.

George Seay III: the Texas finance chair of former Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign. A co-founder and CEO of Annandale Capital, he’s the grandson of former Texas Governor Bill Clements

Wayne Berman: a top advisor to the Blackstone Group and Republican Jewish Coalition, the New York resident has held a variety of posts and transition team spots affiliated with eight GOP presidential campaigns, from Ronald Reagan in 1981 to George W. Bush in 2000.

Jim Rubrich: an Atlanta resident and former CEO of a paper and packaging company called RockTenn, he served on Georgia state leadership committees for George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns.

Anna Rogers: the finance director for American Crossroads, the conservative political group founded by President Bush advisor Karl Rove. It raised more than $200 million for presidential candidates since 2012. ABC reports she’ll start working for Rubio’s Reclaim America PAC on Feb. 1.

 

We'll see who shows up today and tomorrow. But just from the few names that have dribbled out, it's a safe to guess that Rubio's not just going through the motions to make it look as if he wants to sell his latest book (yes, campaigns help sell books and vice-versa). Rubio will more than likely run for president -- but when and for how long are two unanswered questions.

Coincidentally, the Delano meeting happens just as a new Zogby Analytics online poll (again: online) indicates Rubio ties Gov. Jeb Bush in second place among GOP primary voters (13 percent), though former GOP nominee Mitt Romney is the nominal frontrunner at 16 percent.

** This post has been updated

A Hialeah ZIP code leads nation in Obamacare enrollment

@chabelih @NickNehamas @dchangmiami

In one Hialeah ZIP Code, where signs selling “Obamacare” are plastered across storefronts and cover freeway billboards, more people have selected a plan on the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange than in any spot in the country, according to the data release by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday.

Despite the political rancor associated with the healthcare reform law, residents of Hialeah signed up in record numbers for coverage in 2015. A total of 12,330 people in Hialeah’s 33012 ZIP Code selected a plan or were re-enrolled as of mid-January, the highest number in any ZIP Code in the 37 states that use the HealthCare.gov platform.

The number illustrates a 19 percent increase in enrollments in the 33012 ZIP Code from last year. The data reflects plan selections between Nov. 15 and Jan. 16 and could change if consumers fail to pay their monthly premiums. The enrollment period opened Nov.15 and ends Feb. 15.

The other ZIP Codes in the top five: 33126 in Miami, 33313 in Fort Lauderdale, 33015 in Hialeah and 33165 in Miami, each with enrollment between 8,000 and 9,000.

More here.

January 22, 2015

Upon further review, Scott's response to FDLE questions raises more questions

@mikevansickler

So Gov. Rick Scott, or rather his office, has responded to inquiries about his Dec. 16 ouster of Gerald Bailey from his job as Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the allegations that were subsequently made by Bailey.

But hold on. Upon further review, the two-page “FDLE FAQs” that Scott released on Thursday, falls far short of filling in the blanks.

The release, which is organized in a Q & A format, lists 10 questions followed by bullet points.

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Q: Is it true that Gerald Bailey was forced to resign?

-- Prior to December 16, 2015 (sic), the Governor’s staff notified cabinet staff (including the offices of the Attorney General, the Chief Financial Officer, and the Commissioner of Agriculture) that the Governor wanted new leadership at FDLE. Cabinet staff raised no objection.

-- On Tuesday, December 16, 2014, cabinet staff were notified that Gerald Bailey would be met with that day about the Governor’s desire for new leadership at FDLE. Peter Antonacci, then general counsel, met with Bailey and said the Governor wanted new leadership at FDLE and requested his resignation.

-- Bailey sent a letter to the Governor saying he was “stepping down” that same day, December 16th.

(Ok, where shall we begin? Let’s start with the obvious: None of the three bullet points directly answer the above question. The first bullet point implies in broad language [“the Governor wanted new leadership at FDLE”] that yes, Bailey was forced out. The second bullet point actually acknowledges that Scott’s general counsel, Antonacci, told Bailey that “the Governor wanted new leadership.” That’s at least more than what Scott initially told reporters on Jan. 13 when first asked if he forced Bailey out. A day later, asked again if he forced Bailey to resign, Scott replied: "In business, you often make changes because it's the right thing for that organization," he said in Tampa on Jan. 14. Nevermind that he’s the head of a government, not a business, but that doesn’t directly answer the question either. Was he forced out? Yes, but Scott still can’t say it. Also notable here, Scott isn’t disclosing names. Why? The “governor’s staff notified Cabinet staff...Cabinet staff raised no objection.” Who is “Cabinet staff”? "Governor’s staff?" Can we get a couple of names? Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam has provided names. He has told the Times/Herald that Scott’s Cabinet affairs aide, Monica Russell, relayed to Putnam’s Cabinet aide, Brooke McKnight, that Scott wanted to make staff changes in his second term, including at FDLE. But Putnam said he wasn’t given any more details, making it hard to figure just exactly what Scott was doing. "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. Period," Putnam told the Times/Herald last week. "That's all that was conveyed to me.” So the governor’s office doesn’t advance anything here. It mainly repeats established facts that no one is disputing [Antonacci met with Bailey, Bailey sent a letter to the Governor saying he was stepping down.] The public still has no clue from Scott if he forced Bailey out and, more importantly, why, beyond a vague “Governor wanted new leadership.” Well, duh.)

 

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Another assistant warden gets fired at prison with record of inmate deaths

Julie JonesAn assistant warden at a troubled Florida women’s prison where two inmates died last year under suspicious circumstances has been fired, the Department of Corrections confirmed Thursday.

Julie Jones, the department’s new secretary, said Marty Martinez, assistant warden at Lowell Correctional, was discharged for conduct unbecoming an officer and was not dismissed in connection with any inmate death.

“I don’t know what the exact charge was, but in my terminology, conduct unbecoming. It had to do with his demeanor and his attitude on the job,’’ Jones said.

Martinez was ousted Jan. 15, a few days into the tenure of Jones, who replaced former secretary Michael Crews. Crews, who fired at least 32 corrections officers for excessive force last year, stepped down in November amid a scandal over a series of brutal and unexplained inmate deaths reported by the Herald and other news media. Story here. 

Photo: Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones