January 22, 2015

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


Sobel doubts ability of admnistration to do transparent review of child deaths

Eleanor SobelFrustrated that state officials have scrubbed crucial, and often embarrassing, details from a state report on children who have died from abuse, the head of the key Senate oversight committee said Thursday that it may be time to take the job away from the administration.

“It seems they are less transparent that they have been in the past,’’ said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, chairwoman of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, referring to an annual report from the the Child Abuse Death Review Committee that went this year from nearly 200 to 17 pages and failed to include a discussion of the state’s role in the child deaths

“If they are not going to change their ways, maybe we need an alternative,” Sobel said. Her suggestion: change the law to take the job away from the governor’s agency and require an independent panel to review the fatalities, such as the newly-created Florida Institute for Child Welfare, which is housed at Florida State University. 

Current law requires the Florida Department of Health to produce an annual report of the Child Abuse Death Review Committee which reviews each child death, as required under federal law, in order to determine what changes needs to be made to try to prevent future deaths. Until this year, the report had been a robust 197-pages. At the same time the report was scaled back, several veteran and well-respected members of the committee were removed by Surgeon General John Armstrong.

Last year, the report helped to underscore the state’s failure in protecting the children in its custody as the Miami Herald documented the deaths of 477 children whose families were known to DCF in a series of reports, entitled Innocents Lost.

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Headlined by Donna Shalala, Ready For Hillary PAC to raise Miami $ in Bush/Rubio country


Ready4HillIs Miami ready for Hillary Clinton?

The Ready for Hillary PAC is about to find out Feb. 12, when the political committee holds its first major South Florida fundraiser.

It’s headlined by the former Secretary of State’s close friend, outgoing University of Miami President Donna Shalala, the former health secretary under President Clinton.

This is only the beginning of the 2016 fundraising season, so expect more because Miami-Dade has some of the deepest pockets for Florida fundraisers, making it a regular stop on the political money-grubbing circuit.

This fundraiser is set to be held at the home of philanthropist Adrienne Arsht (after whom the county’s performing arts center is named). The host committee includes Hispanic-outreach wiz Freddy Balsera, fundraiser-lawyer Mitchell Berger, former DNC treasurer Bob Farmer, former U.S. Rep. Hon. Joe Garcia, lobbyist Alex Heckler, and former Clinton White House aide and current Arsht Foundation executive Suzanna Valdez.

The Miami fundraiser has an added dose of political interest because it’s being held in the home county of potential Hillary Clinton rivals, former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

As the state’s most-populous and most-Hispanic county, Miami-Dade is also one of the most hotly contested, although it has trended more and more Democrat in recent years. Bush is the only Republican in at least 15 years who has one a majority of the vote in Miami-Dade County (53 percent in 2002). Rubio in his 2010 bid for Senate won the county with 43 percent of the vote, but that’s partly because then-U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and then-independent Gov. Charlie Crist.

Last year as a Democrat, Crist won a greater share of the Miami-Dade vote in his failed bid for governor, 58 percent. But in raw votes (541,000) and in percentage terms (62 percent), President Obama in 2012 firmly established Miami-Dade as a Democratic bulwark.

With margins like that, it’s not easy to see how Bush or Rubio could beat Clinton in their home county. But both speak Spanish, unlike Clinton and unlike 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Romney lost the county by more votes (208,459) than any other recent Republican candidate. That margin helped cost Romney must-win Florida and, therefore, the White House. Romney's hardline positions on immigration likely helped cost him a significant portion of the Hispanic vote, the state and nation's fastest growing major demographic that promises to be even more influential in 2016.

So it's a good bet that Miami, and perhaps Florida, is far less likely ready for Mitt than Hillary

Meggs: Cabinet members should investigate FDLE themselves or shutup


Amid calls for a third-party investigation into allegations made by ousted Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs said he won't be getting involved.

"The Cabinet members are big boys and girls," Meggs said Thursday. "They can do whatever they want. They all have investigators. Go investigate. If they don’t, shut up. It’s that simple."

Meggs said he won't even consider investigating until he receives a criminal complaint from Bailey himself.

"If Gerald Bailey wants to come into the office and file a complaint that someone has violated the law, then I'll take a look at it," Meggs said. "I generally don't take complaints from the media. If there is something, we need to handle it in the proper fashion."

But Meggs said one of the first questions he would ask is why Bailey only made the allegations recently and not when he observed the incidents taking place.

"I would be extremely disappointed that he came in to tell me about a crime he knew about when he was commissioner," Meggs said.

He didn't think that would happen, he added.

"I was told this morning that he's moved on with his life," Meggs said. "I heard he won't be filing a report, that he just wants to move forward."

Meggs said Bailey's allegations don't reach the level of a crime, anyway.

"It's much ado about nothing," Meggs said. He said the allegation that Bailey received pressure from Scott's office is far from surprising.

"This is nothing more than a squabble," he said. "I only have disagreements like this every day in my office. I really don't see a story here."


As RPOF changed guard, it paid $580,000 back to Scott

As his candidate for chair of the Republican Party of Florida was losing support, Gov. Rick Scott was given back $580,000 by the party on Jan. 16, campaign finance records show.

The money, which was deposited in Scott’s Let’s Get to Work campaign committee, was delivered the day before the governor’s preferred candidate, Leslie Dougher, lost her bid to remain chair to Rep. Blaise Ingoglia on Saturday.

As the Political Fix reported, the move came after Senate President Andy Gardiner, who also supported Dougher, pulled out $800,000 for the Senate’s majority committee.

Braynon named next Senate Democratic Leader

BraynonState Sen. Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami Gardens, will be the next Senate Democratic Leader.

His term begins in November 2016.

Braynon was selected for the role by a unanimous vote of the Senate Democratic Caucus on Wednesday.

"The unity of this vote speaks to the unity of this caucus,” Braynon said in a statement. "And it is that united front that will enable us to do great things for the people of Florida."

Braynon will succeed current Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

Joyner called Braynon a "true champion for the people."

Braynon served in the Florida House from 2008 until 2011. He is a graduate of Florida State University and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said Braynon had "more than earn the trust of his colleagues — he has won the confidence of countless Floridans to fight for them."

"Under Senator Braynon’s leadership, I know the caucus will continue to fight for the values we all share: expanding opportunity, strengthening our schools, and working to grow Florida’s middle class," Tant said.

Atwater, Putnam call for investigation into FDLE; Gov. Scott sneaks away

As three elected officials left the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors meeting this morning, two stopped to express concern about the circumstances behind former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey stepping down. 

But while reporters talked to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, Gov. Rick Scott left the meeting room at the Double Tree hotel in Tallahassee earlier than anticipated and through a back exit. 

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Bill Johnson named Enterprise Florida chief

@doug_hanks and @patriciamazzei

[Updated  at 11:04 a.m. with news on Johnson's replacement at the water-and-sewer department in Miami-Dade County.]

Miami-Dade's longtime port chief -- and current head of the water-and-sewer department -- was named Thursday to head Florida's economic-development arm.

Bill Johnson succeeds Gray Swoope as CEO of Enterprise Florida, a post that also came with the title of Commerce Secretary (Jeb Bush's first state job). 

"You'll see me in the Panhandle. You'll see me in the Keys. You'll see me in Jacksonville," Johnson told the Enterprise Florida board at Thursday's meeting. "You'll see me around the state. You'll see me listening."

Considered a specialist at turning around troubled departments at Miami-Dade, Johnson spent most of his career at the county and traveled the world as the ports chief, a job he took in 2006. "Bill, I think this is the first job you've had where you didn't have to fix anything," Alan Becker, a Fort Lauderale lawyer and new Enterprise Florida vice-chairman, said in introducing Johnson.

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In Miami-Dade, thumbs up for U.S. gun ban fails on party-line vote (for now)


Members of the Miami-Dade County Commission hold non-partisan seats. They run in primaries where all candidates compete, and only the top two vote-getters can make it into a run-off.

But sometimes, party affiliation can be instructive. 

On Wednesday, the commission voted down a symbolic resolution urging Congress to revive a national ban on some automatic weapons. In the 5 to 6 vote, all four Democrats voted yes (Daniella Levine Cava, Barbara Jordan, Jean Monestime and Dennis Moss) and all six Republicans voted no (Bruno Barreiro, Esteban "Steve" Bovo, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Rebeca Sosa, Javier Souto and Juan C. Zapata). Xavier Suarez, an independent, voted yes as well, according to the clerk's tally.  

But the results may not last. The winning side agreed to let Jordan, the resolution's sponsor, undo the no vote, withdraw her motion and bring back it on another day. The two Democrats that complete the 13-member commission, Audrey Edmonson and Sally Heyman, were absent Wednesday, and their votes would be enough to tilt the count back into the gun ban's favor. 

For those keeping score, the commission is officially split in terms of party. Levine Cava, a Democrat, last year ousted an incumbent Republican, Lynda Bell. The left the commission with six Democrats and six Republicans, with Suarez the lone independent.

Read the story here.  


Awkward: Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney to meet privately in Utah

From The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are scheduled to meet privately this week in Utah, raising the possibility that the two former governors will find a way to avoid competing presidential campaigns that would split the Republican establishment next year, two prominent party members said Wednesday night.

The meeting was planned before Mr. Romney’s surprise announcement two weeks ago to donors in New York that he was considering a third run for the White House.

Mr. Bush proposed the meeting, according to one of the party members familiar with the planning, who did not want to be quoted by name in discussing a secret meeting.

The original idea was for Mr. Bush, who announced his presidential ambitions in December, to show his respect for Mr. Romney, the Republican Party’s 2012 nominee. The meeting stayed on both men’s calendars even as Mr. Romney took steps to test the presidential waters, moves that could make the meeting awkward.