February 19, 2015

Scott drops appeal of court ban on voter purge effort

Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that his administration won't appeal a federal court ruling that the state illegally tried to purge the voter rolls of suspected noncitizens too close to the 2012 presidential election.
Scott's decision is a major victory for the League of Women Voters and other voter advocacy groups that accused him of seeking to disenfranchise minority voters who were inclined to support President Barack Obama
"Our goal continues to be 100 percent participation by eligible voters and zero percent fraud," Scott's office said in a news release. "Florida voters deserve an election system they can be proud of."
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled last April that the Scott-controlled elections apparatus in the Department of State sought to identify and remove noncitizens from the voter rolls in advance of the 2012 election. Federal law bars states from "systematic" removals of voters less than 90 days before a federal primary or general election.
Scott's statement said his administration has "worked closely with Florida's 67 independent supervisors of election from every county to provide consulation and trainbing focused on ensuring the integrity of Florida's voter rolls.
What Scott's office didn't say was that the attempted purge severely strained relations between his administration and the supervisors, many of whom said the data compiled by the state was unreliable. Scott's Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, suspended a second purge effort in March of last year amid an outcry from supervisors.
The case was Arcia vs. Detzner. The Times/Herald reported last year that the two plaintiffs in the case are both from Miami-Dade. Both women were shocked to discover their names on a purge list when they were both naturalized U.S. citizens. They are Karla Vanessa Arcia from Nicaragua and Melande Antoine of Haiti. The judges ruled that both women had legal standing because "they were wrongly identified as noncitizens."

Pa. paper pokes fun at Gov. Scott's job poaching trip

Gov. Rick Scott's upcoming job-poaching trip to frigid Philadelphia is attracting attention up there, but perhaps not the kind Scott and his messengers would like. The state capital paper in Harrisburg, The Patriot-News, has good-naturedly declared "war" on Scott, calling him Florida's "carpetbagger-in-chief" in an editorial that urges readers to write angry letters to him.

"Tell him that for every Pennsylvania job he poaches, we're taking at least one Disney character back to Pennsylvania," the Patriot-News warns. (Can you picture Goofy in Scranton?)

You can read the piece here.

February 11, 2015

Jones defends 'gag order' as attempt to help fix inspector woes

Julie JonesFlorida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones defended her recently-imposed "confidentiality agreement" on prison inspectors Wednesday, telling a House committee the new rule was "more or less a good housekeeping piece" and "not intended as a gag order."

She conceded that "everything that you have heard about the department is true,’’ referring to troubles within her inspectors’ general office, but said the agreement was intended to address the concerns and protect investigators.

"We have problems,’’ Jones told the House Criminal Justice Committee. "We have good people. We have some bad people,’’ We have a dedicated core of inspector generals that are doing a tough job trying to weed out [wrongdoing.]"

But she said that when she started as secretary in January, she discovered the agency did not require investigators to sign a confidentiality agreement like inspectors in other law enforcement agencies.

The agreement, required to be signed by inspectors by Feb. 19, is intended "to make sure that anything the inspector general touches stays within the inspector general’s office and does not go outside that chain of command," she said.

Continue reading "Jones defends 'gag order' as attempt to help fix inspector woes" »

February 09, 2015

Swearingen got plum travel with governor, even after he left the security job

Rick Swearingen
In his first two years in office, Gov. Rick Scott became so friendly with bodyguard Rick Swearingen, that when Swearingen’s duty ended as special agent in charge of protecting the governor, Scott kept him on for plum assignments — trips to Paris, Japan and the college football championship.

According to travel records released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Swearingen held the unusual position of being both director of Capitol Police, in charge of security at the Capitol complex from May 2013 to December 2014, while also serving as the governor’s occasional bodyguard for long-distance travel.

Scott gave Swearingen a promotion in December. He forced FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey to retire or be fired, and unilaterally named Swearingen as Bailey’s successor as the state’s top law enforcement officer. The incident unleashed a firestorm of controversy when Bailey caught Scott falsely claiming that Bailey had “resigned” and Cabinet officials said they had been misled by Scott’s staff.

Swearingen, 55, a veteran FDLE agent, joined Scott’s protective operations team in September 2010. The duty of the security team is to protect Scott and his wife, Ann, wherever they go — a job that demands hours of intimate contact with the chief executive and his family. Scott, however, has gone to such lengths to shield the public from knowing where he travels and with whom that he has persuaded federal regulators to exempt his plane’s flight data from federal aviation logs.

After more than two years, Bailey named Swearingen director of Capitol Police but, less than a month after starting that job, Swearingen joined Scott on a week-long trip to France to attend the International Paris Air Show.

In November 2013, Swearingen traveled with Scott again, this time on a week-long trade mission to Tokyo. When they returned, the governor brought Swearingen with him again on a three-day trip to Biloxi, Mississippi, to attend the annual meeting of the Southeast U.S./Japan Association.

The long-distance assignments continued for Swearingen into the next year. When Swearingen’s college team, the Auburn Tigers, faced off against the Florida State Seminoles at the 2014 college football championship in Santa Clara, California, Swearingen went along for the three-day trip as Scott’s security detail. More here.

February 08, 2015

Melissa Sellers, the power behind Rick Scott

via @adamsmithtimes @stevebousquet

Melissa sellers

The most powerful, unelected person in state government is a stranger to most Floridians, and that’s exactly the way Melissa Sellers wants it.

Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff is a 32-year-old practitioner of brass-knuckled politics who gets wide leeway. A Florida newcomer with limited knowledge of the state’s political culture and history, she managed the governor’s $100 million-plus re-election campaign and steered him out of a double-digit deficit in the polls.

A devout Christian and onetime divinity student, she was so combative in the Louisiana governor’s office that the capital press corps spoofed her in its annual gridiron dinner as always suited up in football shoulder pads.

As Scott stumbles through a disastrously rocky start to his second term, she is his fiercest advocate and perhaps his greatest liability.

Because Scott’s style has been to defer to senior staff members, Sellers has unbridled political power.

More here.

Photo credit: Tampa Bay Times

February 06, 2015

PolitiFact looks at two Rick Scott promises

PolitiFact Florida looked at two of Gov. Rick Scott's second term promises this week we are tracking on our Scott-O-Meter:

One of the pledges Gov. Rick Scott made during his bid for four more years was that he would turn on the funding spigot for springs restoration and water programs, something he had largely ignored his first term.

While his call for $5 billion to restore the Everglades has been getting the headlines (including $150 million in his 2015-16 budget proposal), he also is asking lawmakers to commit money to restoration and alternative water supply projects. They are part of his $77 million budget proposal, revealed in January. The Legislature has a $1 billion tax surplus to play with this year, although Scott has already asked for $673 million in tax cuts.

Scott also promised to reduce the communications services sales tax. 

Turn to Joshua Gillin's updates at PolitiFact Florida to see how we rated Scott's progress on his promises.

February 05, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott at Cabinet meeting: 'I take responsibility'

Governor Rick Scott’s Cabinet Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning. I want to start the meeting by discussing the departure of Jerry Bailey. While I wanted to bring in new leadership at FDLE as we transitioned into a second term in office, it is clear, in hindsight, that I could have handled it better.

The buck stops here, and that means I take responsibility.

I am focused on working together today on creating a more transparent and predictable process for transitioning cabinet agency leadership as we move forward.

I cannot stress how important it is to add clearly defined accountability and clearly defined measurement to our cabinet agencies. In the private sector, there are no lifetime jobs. In successful companies, no worker is immune from regular performance reviews that determine whether they are meeting clearly defined objectives. State government should be no different. Taxpayers expect the government they pay for to be efficient and productive.

That is why, today, we are proposing a process that would add annual reviews to all cabinet agency leadership positions.

With this new, more transparent and predictable process, all cabinet agency leadership, including FDLE, would be up for a review in June of this year. During that review, any member of the cabinet can make a motion – at our public meeting – for the cabinet to consider the removal of an agency head and begin a search for new leadership.

If we are able to agree to a new more transparent and predictable process today, I would like to invite the current leaders of DOR, OFR, and OIR to the next cabinet meeting to specifically discuss their accomplishments and their specific goals for their agencies and how those goals serve the needs of Floridians. We each have our own goals, but I think we need input from the whole cabinet to set agency goals together.    

Before I open up for discussion, I want to add that searching for new leadership is often important to bring in new energy and fresh ideas. In fact, we have made changes all across state government as part of a transition to a second term.

Successful companies have regular reviews, measurement and accountability – all tied to company objectives. Adding measurement, accountability, and regular reviews is the best way to ensure there is no favoritism among leadership and that every appointed official is focused on what is best for the citizens of our state.

We have a proposed process for discussion today that builds on the process designed by Commissioner Putnam; but I think we need to have a bold discussion about the best process moving forward. We need everyone’s input on this. It is important that we work to make the entire process for transitioning cabinet agency leadership more transparent and predictable. I look forward to hearing your ideas and I have additional copies of the proposal for those who may need them.

February 03, 2015

Scott hires private lawyer to fight disclosure of his financial records

By Gary Fineout, Associated Press

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a wealthy former businessman who put up millions of his money to help his two campaigns, is refusing to hand over detailed financial information that could answer whether he is violating a state ethics law.

Lawyers for Democratic candidate George Sheldon sought the information as part of their ongoing lawsuit that contends Scott is failing to report his actual wealth as required under the state's financial disclosure requirements. Sheldon, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for attorney general, filed the lawsuit last October after the Miami Herald broke the story that Scott had provided incomplete records in his financial disclosure forms. 

Court filings show lawyers hired privately by Scott are vigorously fighting a request to turn over information on trust accounts maintained by Scott and his wife, first lady Ann Scott. Sheldon's attorney is also seeking information on a financial advisor handling Scott's money.

"I was surprised to see the governor of Florida claim his finances are private, when in fact the constitution provides they are public," said Don Hinkle, the attorney representing Sheldon.

Scott's lawyers, who have termed the request "blatant harassment" in court documents, maintain that the information sought by Hinkle is "highly confidential" or irrelevant to the underlying lawsuit.

Scott attorney Pete Dunbar said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the court filings. Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Scott is following the law.

"This is nothing more than a frivolous partisan attack launched during a campaign," Schutz said in an email.

Continue reading "Scott hires private lawyer to fight disclosure of his financial records" »

February 02, 2015

Shedding light on Florida's Sunshine Laws in wake of Pam Bondi's comments about Rick Scott and Gerald Bailey

Gov. Rick Scott is mere weeks into his second term, but he’s already embroiled in a controversy over the ouster of the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Gerald Bailey said he was told to resign after he refused to do work to benefit the governor’s political campaign and had complained of meddling in law enforcement issues by Scott’s office. The members of the Florida Cabinet -- the attorney general, the chief financial officer and the agricultural commissioner -- originally okayed replacing Bailey with little discussion, thinking the longtime FDLE chief had resigned on his own. They backed off supporting Scott’s move after learning the governor forced out the commissioner.

Attorney General Pam Bondi was adamant that the Cabinet didn’t know that Bailey was apparently told to leave. Bondi maintained on Jan. 28, 2015, that she hadn’t discussed it because that’s against the law.

"We all knew that there were going to be changes made in the upcoming months. Did I know that Jerry Bailey was going to be told he was fired and have his things packed up, his entire life as a career law enforcement officer, in a cardboard box, and be told to be out of the office before the end of the day? Absolutely not. Nor do I believe the governor knew it," Bondi told reporters.

"I think the staff knew it, someone knew it," she said, suggesting Scott’s aides. "But we can't talk about it with each other because of Sunshine Laws."

While it’s true Cabinet members aren’t allowed to discuss official business outside public meetings, there are plenty of unanswered questions surrounding this case, so we’re not putting Bondi on the Truth-O-Meter. Did the governor or Cabinet do anything wrong while appointing a new FDLE commissioner? How are their staffs allowed to communicate? In order to understand what the problem is, we’ll need to shed some light on the state’s Sunshine Laws. Turn to Joshua Gillin's story from PolitiFact Florida.

January 31, 2015

Crews: Scott, consumed by image, ignored crisis facing prison system

Mike Crews@JKnipeBrown and @MaryEllenKlas

It was July 10, 2014. Mike Crews, then-secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, was in the thick of a public firestorm over allegations that a mentally ill inmate had died in a scalding shower as part of a punishment ritual by officers at Dade Correctional Institution.

Crews, a former law enforcement officer who had been at the helm of the state’s largest agency for close to three years, had been fielding calls from the governor’s office for weeks. Each message seemed more urgent than the last, with Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign in full swing and civil rights groups calling for a U.S. Justice Department investigation into a series of questionable prison deaths.

“We need you to take a bullet for the governor,’’ Crews recalled being told by the governor’s chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, as he was driving home that afternoon from North Carolina, where and he and his wife had spent a few days decompressing.

The former prisons chief, in an exclusive interview with the Miami Herald, said the governor’s office asked him to fire people Crews didn’t believe should fired; it wrote press releases that said things he didn’t say, and orchestrated hastily arranged news conferences that were little more than smokescreens designed to distract from the real crisis that Crews was sounding the alarm on for years: Florida’s prisons were so rundown and understaffed that they had become dangerous.

“I guess you can say they were more concerned with the crafting and writing of news releases and that had little to do with the reality of what needed to be done to keep the institutions safe and secure,’’ Crews said of the governor’s office. Story here.