May 31, 2016

Prison investigators, now demoted, raise heat on agency with lawsuit and allegations of interference

Miguel note re AntonacciCharges of corruption against the Florida Department of Corrections escalated Tuesday as two demoted senior investigators filed a new lawsuit, accusing the agency of retaliating against them for alleging cover-ups, inmate abuse and political interference on behalf of a company whose lead lobbyist became the governor’s general counsel.

In the 544-page compliant filed Tuesday in circuit court in Leon County, Doug Glisson and John Ulm allege that their bosses systematically tried to discredit them and set them up for demotions by concocting charges, violating agency procedures and even forging signatures. 

They claim that the governor’s office has wielded influence over agency investigations and point to both the governor’s former top lawyer, Pete Antonacci, and his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, as being involved.

Glisson and Ulm, both senior investigators in the Office of Inspector General, were demoted in May after spending the past two years speaking out. In testimony before a state Senate committee last year, they alleged that their boss, then-Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, covered up evidence of inmate abuse, dismissed allegations of impropriety by those close to him and failed to properly police violent corrections officers. They are asking the court to order their reinstatement and for the state to pay all attorney fees and lost wages.

FDC spokesman Alberto Moscoso said the agency would not comment “on active or pending litigation [that] involves the agency or any of our current or former members.”

The dozens of supporting documents filed with the court include copies of agency reports, emails and investigations that show the agency conducted a series of internal investigations into Glisson and Ulm. The inspectors allege the investigations were assigned to officers who took directions from Beasley or had conflicts of interest.

Glisson and Ulm also allege that Beasley ordered Ulm to close an investigation into the department’s former food vendor, U.S. Foods, after the company was accused of serving inmates tainted meat and engaging in deceitful billing.

In a July 2015 letter to Beasley, Ulm suggested that U.S. Foods’ former lobbyist — Pete Antonacci, the governor’s general counsel, who now serves as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District — should be questioned as should “conspirators and persons of interest” in the case. Ulm believed that the case should be referred to the federal government “because of the vast amounts of federal money involved” and because, he said, lobbyists were being paid to try to keep the U.S. Foods contracts in effect in Florida despite the allegations.

His email noted that after Antonacci went to work for the governor, U.S. Foods did not hire another lobbyist to be the liaison with the department, suggesting it didn’t need to because of Antonacci’s position of influence.

“This capital connection could come back to cause an embarrassment to [FDC] Secretary [Julie] Jones, as well as the entire Department,’’ Ulm wrote. “I would like you to reconsider your position and directive not to investigate or seek a referral to another agency concerning the various corporations who I now believe fronted for U.S. Foods.” He also indicated he was seeking whistleblower protection. Story here. 

Download Glisson Ulm v DOC complaint

Download Ulm letter re US Foods

Download Miguel notes

Download Ulm letter to Beasley

Photo: Note to the file from the governor’s chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, indicates she wanted to issue her report but was being told by the governor’s office to wait until after the 2014 election.

May 24, 2016

Anonymous takes aim at Rick Scott, who focuses on Everglades restoration instead

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been asked a great deal of questions, but perhaps none quite like the one he got from a Miami television reporter Tuesday: What were his thoughts on a video from the group Anonymous calling for the Republican governor to be impeached or else for him to resign?

The video, posted on Anonymous' Facebook page earlier in the day ("Hello, citizens of the world," it begins), accused Scott of working to "destroy the great state of Florida's ocean wildlife" by allowing polluted waters from Lake Okeechobee to run off into the Atlantic Ocean. The masked figure with a disguised, robotic voice also charged the governor with "lining his pockets" with support from Big Sugar. 

The video was first reported by Political Fix Florida.

Scott, speaking to reporters after a ceremonial bill signing at the Department of Children and Families office in Miami, ignored the part of the question about Anonymous and instead focused on Everglades restoration efforts.

"Here's what's exciting that's happened in the last five years," he said, rattling off a list of accomplishments from settling lawsuits with federal agencies to appropriating $880 million from the state budget to improve water quality. 

"So we're clearly heading in the right direction, and this state can be proud of what we're doing."

It's the federal government, Scott countered, that "has not paid up their portion" of Everglades projects.

UPDATE: The governor's office said Wednesday the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was made aware of the Anonymous video. FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger told the Miami Herald in an email that it has seen the video.

"FDLE always maintains operational awareness, but we have not seen evidence of a threat related to the video," she wrote.

May 23, 2016

Fact-checking Rick Scott's higher education promises before his Orlando summit

Gov. Rick Scott holds a higher education summit in Orlando this week so PolitiFact Florida checked on Scott's progress on two higher education promises.

Scott promised to make Florida No. 1 in higher education affordability -- even though our tuition is already one of the lowest in the nation. Here is our update about his promise.

He also promised to be in the Top 10 and Top 25 ranked public universities. See our update on his progress here.

PolitiFact Florida has been tracking Scott's promises about taxes, education, economy and environment from his 2010 and 2014 campaigns on our Scott-O-Meter.

May 17, 2016

Report: Florida ranks 9th best in debt load as a percent of personal income, so what does that mean?

Florida debtFlorida taxpayers today are on the hook for less unpaid state debt than taxpayers in a majority of other states, according to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trust.

The report on state debt and unfunded retirement costs, released Tuesday, measures the state’s total outstanding debt between 2003 and 2013, including its health care and pension obligations to retirees. According to data provided the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau, Florida ranks ninth best in the nation in total outstanding bills and debt as a share of personal income is 7.2 percent, compared to the national average of 14.8 percent.

But that is only one piece of the equation on Florida’s fiscal health. Data collected by theU.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis show that during that same decade, as the state’s total debt as a share of personal income dropped, so did the value of all the goods and services produced in Florida. The state’s gross domestic product per person, the monetary value of its economy, was declining more than $10,000 below the national average. Story here. 

More data here:

Florida Per Capita Gross Domestic Product

Area

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

Florida

40368

41623

43333

44038

43729

41579

38771

38396

37627

37790

38197

38664

United States

45858

47037

48090

48909

49126

48401

46680

47287

47586

48160

48397

49110

Difference

-5490

-5414

-4757

4871

-5397

-6822

-7909

-8891

-9959

-10370

-10200

-10446

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis

 

 

Florida's Outstanding Retirement and State Debt as a Percent of Personal income

 

National Rank*

National Average

Florida

Debt % of Personal Income 2013

24

3.7

2.4

Unfunded Pension % of Personal Income 2013

11

6.9

3.9

Retiree Health Care % of Personal Income 2013

17

4.2

0.9

Total Debt % of Personal Income 2013

7

14.8

7.2

 

*lowest to highest

   

Source: Pew Charitable Trust

 

May 11, 2016

As Gov. Rick Scott visits Capitol Hill, Florida Republicans urge passage of Zika bill

via @jamesmartinrose

Florida’s usually divided congressional delegation closed ranks around the state’s growing Zika crisis Wednesday as key members met with visiting Republican Gov. Rick Scott, then urged passage of a law to provide $1.9 billion in emergency federal money.

President Barack Obama requested the money in February to pay for research and treatment of the virus, which now is believed to cause birth defects in children whose mothers contracted the disease while pregnant. But Republicans have blocked the bill.

Even as Scott, a Republican, made the rounds on Capitol Hill, Florida health officials announced three new travel-related cases of Zika in the state, two in Volusia County and one in Orange County.

Gov. Rick Scott will visit Capitol Hill to make pitch for Zika funding

@ByKristenMClark

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is headed to Washington, D.C., this afternoon to visit with eight members of Florida's congressional delegation.

The topic: Federal aid to prepare for and combat the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

"We've got to have a federal plan," Scott told reporters on Tuesday. "My job is to help get the state prepared and that is what this trip is to do."

MORE: Daily Florida Zika Virus Tracker

Scott's daily schedule includes meetings on Capitol Hill with only Republicans: U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, both of Miami, Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville, Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, Curt Clawson of Bonita Springs and David Jolly of Indian Shores, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

"It's going to get warmer, we're going to have more rainfall, we're probably going to see more mosquitoes in our state," Scott said Tuesday. "Our federal government has a variety of plans they're talking about. ... We've got to address the Zika issue. Hopefully, we can get ahead of it."

Scott did not specify what amount of funding or resources he's seeking from the federal government.

"We're working through our Department of Health and our mosquito boards -- whether it's more money for our mosquito boards, whether it's to make sure they have the right testing kits or to make sure, if we have a significant outbreak, do we have all of the resources?" he said.

As of Tuesday, the Florida DOH reported 109 known cases of Zika. All were travel-associated from people returning to the U.S. from other countries; no one had contracted the virus in Florida.

Scott said DOH continues to work with local mosquito boards to get ahead of the virus, and he said it's time for the federal government to step up.

"I think of it like a hurricane," Scott said. "The way you prepare for a hurricane is you get prepared and the federal government needs to come together, work together and provide the funding for the things that are necessary to our states."

May 10, 2016

Here is what Gov. Rick Scott's agency spent on inaccurate ad attacking California over minimum wage

Well, it didn’t cost much but we finally got the tab for the inaccurate radio ad attacking California’s minimum wage by Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s agency.

Enterprise Florida sent us invoices for the ad which showed a total of $5,747 for voice talent, production costs and media placement in the San Francisco and Los Angeles markets. (We first asked about the cost April 27th and after we couldn’t get an answer we submitted a public records request on May 4.)

The radio ad coincided with the Republican governor’s job-poaching visit to California and prompted a spat with California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat.

The ad stated: "Seven hundred thousand. That’s how many California jobs will be lost thanks to the politicians raising the minimum wage….Now Florida is adding one million jobs, not losing them."

PolitiFact Florida rated that claim Mostly False. The 700,000 figure refers to the number of jobs California could have added by 2026 if it didn’t increase the minimum wage, not a decline in net employment. Based on projections, California will still gain more jobs with the minimum wage increase than Florida during the same time frame. While experts agreed that a $15 wage will reduce employment in California, they said it’s near impossible to pin a number on the impact given how unprecedented the hike is.

May 05, 2016

Miami-Dade city has so many unpaid bills that it faces a shutdown

Gimenezemploymiamidade

via Michael Sallah and @jayhweaver

In March, the lights were turned off for several hours at Opa-locka City Hall after the bill didn’t get paid.

The next month, the cell phone service used by police detectives was cut off for days because the city didn’t make the payments.

Two weeks ago, the medical benefits of city workers were abruptly canceled when the city failed to pay the premium.

Eight months after elected leaders were warned their city was close to financial collapse, Miami-Dade County leaders have asked the state to declare a financial emergency and consider taking over the troubled city’s entire operations.

With Opa-locka struggling to pay basic costs — including gas for police cars — Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez urged the governor’s office for the second time in as many months to place the city of 16,000 people under its control.

“We believe the city’s financial condition continues to deteriorate,” Gimenez and County Commissioner Barbara Jordan wrote in a letter on May 3 to the governor’s inspector general. “If the state does not take immediate action, there could be a shutdown of city government.”

With no formal recovery plan in place by Opa-locka leaders, top county officials say they do not believe the city is capable of saving itself from insolvency. Already, Miami-Dade police have been put on notice that they will be mobilized to provide police services if municipal operations cease.

More here.

The first step from Miami Beach's mayor toward a run for Florida governor?

@PatriciaMazzei @joeflech

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine positioned himself Thursday as a leading Democratic voice against Florida Gov. Rick Scott, in what is perhaps the most concrete sign yet that Levine might seek the state’s highest political office in 2018.

Levine unveiled a radio ad touting his city’s planned vote for a living wage. Here’s the twist: The ad is airing in California, the state Scott just visited in an attempt to recruit companies to Florida. Democrats are pushing the wage issue as a key difference with Republicans in upcoming elections.

“This is Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and I want the people of California to know that Miami Beach is about to vote on an historic measure: a living wage for all its residents, one that allows them to not only work here, but live here,” Levine says in the ad, which his office says is airing in the pricey markets of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. The spot says it’s paid for by Levine himself.

Levine scheduled an afternoon news conference in Miami Beach to discuss the ad and “to comment on Governor Rick Scott’s visit to Miami and address his latest trip to California where he took aim at minimum wage policies.”

The press event turned out to be a one-on-one with a Miami Herald reporter after no other news media showed up.

More here.

 

This post has been updated.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott: I won't be Donald Trump's VP

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott predicted Wednesday that Donald Trump would “have a big win both in Florida and in the United States,” while saying he is not interested in serving as Trump’s vice president.

“This election is about one thing. It’s about jobs,” Scott said on CNN. ”Donald Trump is a business person. He has created jobs. He’s going to focus on building jobs. And he’s running against a career politician that has never, ever created a job.”

Scott said Trump’s task is “no different than my election in 2010, where I focused on jobs and I won against a sitting attorney general and a sitting CFO.”

Asked by host Erin Burnett about the VP position, Scott said, “I’m going to stay in this job and finish this job.” If Trump calls? “I’m going to pass. I will do everything I can to make sure he wins.”

Scott was then asked if he had reservations about a candidate who would bring up a National Enquirer story about Ted Cruz’s father.

“Erin, you know we’re not going to agree on - I’m not going to agree with any candidate and how they present the issue. Here’s the way I look at it: We have a choice. If people like the way Washington is going, they should vote for Hillary Clinton. If you want to change, you get somebody to focus on jobs, then you should vote for Donald Trump.”

Though Scott did not endorse Trump until the day after the March 15 Florida primary, he signaled support in January.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times