October 30, 2015

Former Citizens interim president, known for personal spending, appointed by Gov. Scott to State Board of Education


Republican Gov. Rick Scott has appointed his close friend, former state lawmaker and head of the Office of Financial Regulation, to fill a vacancy on the State Board of Education.

Tom Grady, 57, is a wealthy securities lawyer from Naples, who's perhaps best known though for his questionable travel spending during his brief tenure in 2012 as interim president of Citizens Property Insurance.

In less than two months overseeing the state-run provider, he spent nearly $10,000 on expensive hotel rooms, airplane trips, a limo ride and a three-night stay in Bermuda. Grady defended the spending, saying he was actually "very frugal." More here. He lost the permanent job to a Maryland insurance executive and returned to the private sector.

Before that, during his tenure running OFR, Grady also projected a stark contrast in leadership philosophy: a fiscal conservative who cut costs but also racked up hefty personal travel expenses on taxpayers' dime. More here.

Scott appointed Grady on Friday for a term that ends in December 2018. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

October 29, 2015

Nursing home company joins list of Rick Scott's $100K donors


The biggest nursing home company in Florida has become one of the top donors to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s political action committee, new campaign records show.

Consulate Health Care, a Tampa-based company, sent Scott’s Let’s Get to Work Committee a $100,000 check two weeks ago, becoming among an elite set of 11 donors who have given Scott at least at least $100,000 this year.

Consulate runs more than 200 centers in 21 states, including 80 in Florida, according to its website.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts, Associated Industries of Florida and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik are the only donors to give more to Scott’s committee this year.

All told, Scott has now raised $3.8 million in his Let’s Get to Work Committee in 2015, even though he is term limited and cannot seek re-election. Though there is speculation Scott is building up for a run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, he has refused to discuss his future election plans.

Here’s a list of Scott’s donors who have given at least $100,000 this year:

Florida Chamber of Commerce - $500,000

Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts - $252,500

Jeffrey Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner - $200,000

Associated Industries of Florida - $150,000

Voice of Florida Business, a PAC with ties to AIF – $130,000

Florida Jobs PAC, a PAC with ties to the Florida Chamber - $110,000

Consulate Health Care, Florida’s largest nursing home provider - $100,000

Lawrence DeGeorge, runs a charitible trust in Jupiter, FL - $100,000

Floridians for a Stronger Democracy, a political committee with ties to AIF - $100,000

Daniel Doyle Jr., Tampa Bay resident and CEO of DEX Imaging Inc - $100,000

Intervest Construction, homebuilder based in Daytona Beach - $100,000

October 27, 2015

Back to school: Gov. Scott and Cabinet get 'sunshine' refresher

State business came to a halt Tuesday as Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members got an unprecedented 90-minute public refresher course on Florida's open meeting and public records laws.

Their teacher was Florida's acknowledged expert on the subject, Assistant Attorney General Pat Gleason. It was not strictly academic, but political, as a result of the secret ouster of a top state police official and Scott's role in it. The four state officials agreed eight months ago that the course was necessary.

Gleason's seminar, held in a nearly-deserted Cabinet room, stemmed from a controversy that erupted last December when Scott directed his then-counsel, Pete Antonacci, to force FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey to resign. By law, Bailey reported to the governor and Cabinet, but he never received a public discussion or vote on his job status.

Scott later said his Cabinet aides privately sent word to aides to all three Cabinet members that he wanted "new leadership" at FDLE, and that "Cabinet staff raised no objection." Two dozen Florida news outlets sued Scott and the Cabinet, alleging the sunshine law was violated, but the case was settled out of court with requirements for new sunshine safeguards and no findings of wrongdoing.

Continue reading "Back to school: Gov. Scott and Cabinet get 'sunshine' refresher" »

October 26, 2015

Citing 'black eye,' Tampa Chamber leader urges Scott to get it right

Gov. Rick Scott is being urged to act fast to fill the vacancy on the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority caused by the resignation of Sam Rashid, a prominent businessman and Republican activist. Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, is urging Scott to find a better candidate and warns the governor: "We will be watching."

Rashid caused a furor in early September when he referred to a female public relations consultant as a "taxpayer-subsidized slut" on his Facebook account. The businessman later apologized and offered to resign if Scott wanted him to, but Scott took no action and said he "expected" Rashid to resign. The controversy lingered for weeks until Rashid finally quit on Oct. 9.

"Your previous decision has given Tampa Bay a black eye and caused unnecessary controversy in our community," Rohrlack wrote Scott in a letter dated Oct. 23. "As you consider your selection, know that all of Tampa Bay is watching."

Rohrlack cited the importance of Tampa International Airport to the economic health of Tampa Bay and west central Florida. The business leader instructed Scott to choose someone who won't use the appointment as "a platform for their personal political views or an avenue for airing personal attacks ... an appointee above reproach that brings smart business experience to providing strategic direction to one of our community's most important assets." In unusually direct language, Rohrlack told Scott: "Make the right appointment and do it quickly ... we will be watching."

Scott's office issued this response: "This five-member board oversees millions in tax dollars and Gov. Scott wants to take the needed time to find the most qualified candidate who will serve in the best interest of taxpayers and families.

Scott is not known for speed in filling vacancies to public boards and commissions. It has been nearly five months since the terms of four of his appointees to the Commission on Ethics expired, but they have not been replaced.

October 22, 2015

Rick Scott assails 'ridiculous' Legislature, seeks $250M for job deals

Gov. Rick Scott called on Florida legislators Thursday to set aside $250 million in the next state budget for economic incentive programs, an idea likely to face strong resistance from his fellow Republicans in the Senate, even though Scott's plan includes more oversight of spending by legislative leaders.

Speaking at an Enterprise Florida board meeting in Orlando, Scott directly took on his critics in the Capitol, saying "it's ridiculous" that the largest fund used to close deals with employers is "broken and nearly bankrupt" and will run out of money in a few weeks. He again called on Enterprise Florida board members, many of them well-connected business leaders, to lobby lawmakers for the money and to "make it personal."

"These reforms are not going to happen because I give a speech. They're not," Scott said in a morning speech at the Hyatt at Orlando International Airport.

He picked an opportune time to pounce on the Legislature, as lawmakers are wallowing in dysfunction over the need to remap all 40 Senate districts to comply with constitutional anti-gerrymandering requirements.

Scott's request for $85 million for incentive programs in the current budget was sliced by half in the 2015 legislative session, and Senate analysts say that since Scott became governor, only about 10 percent of money appropriated for incentive programs has actually been paid to employers. Most of the rest is earmarked for several hundred jobs deals, but the jobs don't yet exist.

In Tuesday's speech, Scott tripled the request to set aside $250 million in a new Florida Enterprise Fund, and any deal over $1 million would require approval of the Senate president and House speaker as well as the governor. Scott has already made other big promises, including an estimated $700 million in tax cuts and "record" per pupil spending in public schools. Scott's abrupt vetoes of $461 million in legislators' projects in June left a trail of bitterness with a number of GOP senators.

Treading on treacherous political ground, Scott said legislators can't be trusted until they make a commitment in writing in the form of a press release.

"People come to my office all the time and say, 'Oh, I met with so-and-so in the House or so-and-so in the Senate, and they completely agree with me.' I say, 'Really?' I haven't seen their press release. If they don't put out a press release and say I absolutely will support these reforms, then that's a 'No.'"

On Tuesday, Scott's hand-picked leader of Enterprise Florida, Bill Johnson, faced hostile questioning in a Senate budget committee, which noted that his organization has $141 million in escrow accounts, promised to future jobs that don't exist. Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said EFI's bookkeeping is "almost hilarious."

October 21, 2015

Legislative Black Caucus wants 'independent investigation' into Corey Jones shooting

Black caucus


Members of the Florida Legislature’s Black Caucus want Republican Gov. Rick Scott to launch an independent investigation into the police-involved shooting death of Corey Jones in Palm Beach County on Sunday, and they say the tragedy is another example of why legislation is needed to improve transparency and accountability from local police agencies.

“Once again, another young black man has been killed by being someplace he rightfully belonged in our state,” said Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, the caucus chairman.

Scott’s office said he has offered the assistance of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to Palm Beach County authorities, but he did not commit to a separate state-level investigation.

“Our office continues to monitor any developments,” Scott’s spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in a statement.

Jones, a 31-year-old church drummer and Boynton Beach resident, was shot dead at around 3:15 a.m. after an encounter with a police officer when his vehicle broke down on an I-95 exit ramp in Palm Beach Gardens. The officer, Nouman Raja, was on duty in plain clothes and driving an unmarked police vehicle.

The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department said Raja was investigating what he thought was an abandoned vehicle and when Raja left his own vehicle “he was suddenly confronted by an armed subject.” Raja’s vehicle had no dash camera and he wore no body camera. The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department waited nearly two days before commenting on the shooting, after getting pressure from the local police union.

Although the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Palm Beach County State Attorney’'s Office are each looking into the shooting, Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, said “an independent and thorough investigation by an outside agency” — in this case, the FDLE — would help restore public confidence.

“This has to stop,” Powell said. “There’s no evidence that we’ve seen to indicate that this man was a trouble-maker. ... My community is frustrated and rightfully so.” 

More here.

October 20, 2015

Not so fine an ending: Gov. Scott slaps ethics fine on ex-LG Carroll

Gov. Rick Scott once called Jennifer Carroll "the embodiment of the American dream." On Tuesday, Scott signed an executive order requiring his former lieutenant governor to pay a fine of $1,000 to settle an ethics case. Scott's staff pressured Carroll to resign in 2013 when a veterans' charity that once employed her PR firm was targeted in a criminal investigation of the Internet cafe industry.

Read Scott's order here. Background on the ethics case is here. In case you missed it, Carroll published a book last year in which she said her reaction to Scott's selection of her as his 2010 running mate was "Why me?"

Grandpa Scott welcomes grandson No. 4 on his Mom's birthday

Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott on Tuesday celebrated the birth of their fourth grandchild, Eli Vincent Arthur, both to his eldest daughter Allison Guimard and husband Pierre, who live in Naples.

Eli weighed in at 6 pounds and 8 ounces and is the fourth grandson in a row to join the Scott clan, joining Auguste, Quinton and Sebastian.

For the 62-year-old governor, the timing of Eli's arrival has special significance. Tuesday also is the birthday of his late mother, Esther, who died on Nov. 13, 2012. Mrs. Scott would have been 87 on Tuesday.

October 16, 2015

If Rick Scott repeatedly says K-12 funding is 'highest' is it true? Nope

Amid his calls for legislators to cut taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars next year, Gov. Rick Scott bragged that Florida’s education system is getting record funding on his watch.

During a news conference on Oct. 14, 2015, Scott called for tax cuts beyond the $400 million the Legislature approved earlier in the year. Scott had promised to cut taxes by $1 billion over two years, but lawmakers are already signaling that may not be possible.

When a reporter asked Scott how he can push tax cuts and still guarantee public schools the capital funding they need, Scott repeated a boast he’s made before: "We have the highest funding in (the) K-12 system in the history of the state."

Scott and Florida Republicans have been making the claim since his 2014 re-election campaign that school funding has been at historic levels, but it’s simply not a complete picture of the education budget. (Scott intends to release his full budget proposal in December.) We decided it was time to revisit this particular claim.

Keep reading Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida and check out Scott's full Truth-O-Meter record.

October 14, 2015