December 04, 2014

Rick Scott ally blasts Miami GOP lawmakers for ‘malicious lobbying’ in bid dispute


A $40 million Tri-Rail bid dispute is going off the political rails.

A top Broward Republican insider, William R. Scherer, is accusing three Miami-Dade GOP lawmakers of improper lobbying in the matter. One of the lawmakers said the comments from Scherer, a major backer of Gov. Rick Scott, are "ludicrous."

The case involves two construction firms, MCM of Miami and Gulf Building of Fort Lauderdale. After losing the bid, MCM enlisted the help of Sen. Anitere Flores and representatives Jeanette Nunez and Manny Diaz. Jr., who then voiced their concerns in a letter to Tri-Rail’s board, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (background here).

Scherer then penned this letter today that blasted his fellow Republicans. Normally, a back-and-forth like this would be limited to the original blog post. But this scorcher deserves its own post:

“My firm represents Gulf Building LLC, the winning bidder in the above referenced RFP. We have been provided with a copy of your letter of December 1, 2014 to the SFRTA board members. Attached hereto is a copy of our letter to Mr. Munilla of MCM advising him that we are going to be seeking damages against MCM and him for defamation per se toward

“Your letter now implicates each of you in a conspiracy to defame Gulf Building. Your actions are clearly as lobbyists for MCM in an effort to support MCM’s bid. You have made defamatory statements against Gulf Building that you could possibly not have verified for their truthfulness before sending your letter. This malicious lobbying behavior in the guise of your elected official capacity makes you personally liable as co-conspirators.

“Also, your communications are in violation of the cone of silence and are in violation of Florida’s laws related to improper communications in a public bidding process. Your violation of these laws will also be pursued as part of the damages claims against you and MCM for conspiracy to defame.”

“Withdraw your letters immediately. Govern yourself accordingly.”

Said Diaz in a written statement: "That letter is ludicrous. I'm not lobbying for anyone. I don't even know any of the parties involved but I strongly believe the board should guard taxpayer dollars."

Regardless of who's right, this crazy train is sure to make Friday's Tri-Rail meeting into a wreck.

Download Scherer letter 1

Download Lawmaker letter

Insider deal? Lawmakers voice 'disturbing concerns' over high-bidder in $40m Tri-Rail deal


MCM, a Miami-based construction firm, felt good about its bid for a $40 million Tri-Rail job because it felt it had more experience than its rival and said it quoted a price of $700,000 less.

But the rival company, Gulf Building, had something that didn't show up in the bid documents: personal ties to Broward County powerbroker, lawyer William R. Scherer, as well as an indirect link to a Tri-Rail board member, Jim Cummings.

Gulf Building got the contract. And now there's a bidding war that's pitting Broward and Miami-Dade Republicans against each other.

Continue reading "Insider deal? Lawmakers voice 'disturbing concerns' over high-bidder in $40m Tri-Rail deal " »

State education department names new communications director

Meghan Collins is the new communications director for the Florida Department of Education.

She replaces Joe Follick, who will be working with the Florida College System.

Collins most recently spearheaded communications for First Lady Ann Scott during Gov. Rick Scott's campaign for re-election. Prior to that, she was communications director for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. 

"I'm really excited, and looking forward to the new challenge of a new agency," she said Thursday.

Collins graduated from Louisiana State University. She is married to Frank Collins, a member of Gov. Scott's inner circle who was recently named deputy chief of staff.

David Rivera still hasn't reported how he paid for campaign robocalls


Another financial reporting deadline has come and gone for this year's political candidates -- which means another deadline has come and gone in which David Rivera has yet to report how much he paid for automated telephone calls to voters.

The robocalls, featuring Rivera himself speaking in Spanish, were the only politicking Rivera did this summer after placing his short-lived campaign on hold. The Miami Republican briefly ran for his old congressional seat.

At the time, Rivera hadn't reported raising any money. That hasn't changed since. His Dec. 1 report continues to list $0 contributions.

Carlos Curbelo campaign explains financial reporting errors to Federal Election Commission


U.S. Rep.-elect Carlos Curbelo's campaign responded this week to questions from the Federal Election Commission over more than $93,000 in omitted or mislabeled political contributions.

The FEC had sent the Miami Republican a pair notices last month identifying the problems in a two of his financial reports. The issues had first came to light when Curbelo amended one of them a few days before the Nov. 4 election.

In the response Curbelo filed Tuesday, the campaign explained that some contributions questioned by the FEC for being duplicates actually belonged to different individuals with the same name or address. The campaign also listed $52,875 in "corrupted data" initially misreported due to what the campaign called a "software issue" from switching accounting programs near Election Day. Some $42,000 from political organizations was mislabeled as coming from individuals.

Curbelo had laid out most of those changes in the Oct. 28 amendment to his Oct. 15 quarterly financial report, so the total amount of money he raised remains the same as on Oct. 28. That amendment raised eyebrows because so many political action committees had been omitted or mislabeled -- in a race where Rep. Joe Garcia, the incumbent Democrat, had made an issue out of the influx of outside dollars.

According to the Dec. 2 response, Curbelo's campaign corrected the labeling and totals from $51,000 from PACs and other groups, and $21,000 from individuals.

Senate GOP leader Galvano names Denise Grimsley as his deputy

Denise Grimsley

The Florida Senate may be a conservative chamber run by wealthy, white men, but it is gradually injecting some women leaders into the second tier of its leadership ranks. 

Senate President Andy Gardiner last week named Miami Sen. Anitere Flores as chairman of the newly-named Fiscal Policy Committee and appointed five other women senators as committee chairs. Today, Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano named Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring as the chamber's deputy GOP leader for the 2014-16 legislative term.

Grimsley, a registered nurse, is a legislative veteran who has served as House Appropriations Chair and the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chair.

“As a fifth generation Floridian, a parent, and business woman, Denise knows firsthand the challenges and opportunities of citizens and business owners in our state. She is a conservative leader whose experience will serve our caucus greatly,'' Galvano, R-Bradenton, said in a statement. 

Grimsley represents Senate District 21, which consist of Okeechobee, and parts of Highlands, Martin, Osceola, Polk, and St. Lucie counties.

She served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2004-2012 and was elected to the Senate in 2012. Senator Grimsley is a graduate of the University of Miami, with a Masters of Business Administration. She has a daughter and two grandchildren.

Miami-Dade police union gears up for another tense topic: body cameras


[Updated at 6:25 p.m. with the addition of the water-and-sewer union also being in the contract process with Miami-Dade County.]

In the midst of contentious contract talks, Miami-Dade's police union is prepping for another strained discussion with the county: drafting policy for body cameras.

This week, Miami-Dade commissioners approved a resolution requiring Mayor Carlos Gimenez to present commissioners with a recommended policy on how Miami-Dade would implement the 500 body-cameras approved in this year's police budget. Gimenez had already promised that commissioners could sign-off on an operations policy before the cameras were purchased, so the resolution didn't bring much change to the process. 

But one provision of the legislation is sure to cause some contention, both internally and in public. Commissioners voted unanimously to mandate that "the study shall be done in consultation with representatives of the County's law enforcement bargaining units." Union president John Rivera has been the most vocal critic of Gimenez's body-camera plan.

Juan Perez, the county's deputy police director, said the administration hasn't worked out the details on how the union consultation will happen. Rivera said the county hasn't yet reached out to the union, which is called the Police Benevolent Association. Perez, Deputy Mayor Russell Benford and county lawyers are meeting Thursday to discuss logistics. 

The police-camera process comes as the Gimenez administration is butting heads with the PBA over a three-year labor contract. The county's police, fire, water-and-sewer and transit unions are the hold-outs in contract talks that otherwise concluded this fall with the county's other unions.

Continue reading "Miami-Dade police union gears up for another tense topic: body cameras" »

Emotional public testimony and the Miami-Dade County Commission


We don't spend a lot of time analyzing the process of Miami-Dade County Commission meetings. There's usually far more substantial news to cover.

But it's worth noting that handling Tuesday's emotional public hearing over a contentious transgender-rights law required a fair amount of procedural strategy -- like it or not -- on the part of Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa.

Sosa, whose two-year term at the commission helm ends Dec. 31, has learned a thing or two about wrangling passionate crowds. She's had to preside over marathon meetings over restoring workers' pay, balancing the county budget and upgrading taxicab technology.

On Tuesday, commissioners approved an amendment to the county's human-rights ordinance to ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression. That includes transgender and gender non-conforming people.

The 8-3 vote didn't take place until after 6 p.m. The meeting kicked off around 9:30 a.m. with Sosa telling the more than 150 people who had signed up to speak on the law that they would have to wait -- even though other people were able to comment right away on any other piece of legislation coming up for a similar vote.

(It's a technicality, but only a few, specific items require public hearings when they're voted on. For the rest, the state has forced local governments to hold an open, catch-all comments section.)

Sosa intended to get through most of the rest of the (rather full) meeting agenda before tackling the transgender-rights issue. That was Strategic Move Number One: Make the crowd wait. Nearly five hours, in fact. Sosa didn't open the public hearing on the legislation until 2:15 p.m. She made an aide to state Rep. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who opposed the legislation as written, wait in the audience until nearly the end of the meeting -- an unusual move considering politicians like to defer to fellow elected officials and their staffs.

Continue reading "Emotional public testimony and the Miami-Dade County Commission" »

Feds sue for-profit college in Miami for using strippers to recruit students


Some Florida for-profit colleges have used highly aggressive techniques to recruit students — including non-stop phone calls, misleading promises and $500 rewards for referrals.

But according to a federal lawsuit, Miami-based FastTrain College added a new wrinkle: hiring strippers as “admissions representatives.”

The “exotic dancer” allegation comes from the U.S. attorney’s office and Florida’s attorney general, who this week both joined a pending whistle-blower lawsuit against FastTrain. A civil complaint filed by the two agencies say at least one FastTrain campus used strippers to attract students, though it did not identify the campus.

The college “purposely hired attractive women and sometimes exotic dancers and encouraged them to dress provocatively while they recruited young men in neighborhoods to attend FastTrain,” the lawsuit states. Story here. 



Court ruling means gay couples could wed as early as Jan. 5 in Florida


Same-sex couples in Florida could begin marrying shortly after the new year, after a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that a stay in the state’s gay-marriage ban case will be lifted at the end of the day Jan.5.

In a two-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta turned down a request by Florida’s secretaries of health and management services and the clerk of the court in the Panhandle’s Washington County to extend the stay. A federal judge based in Tallahassee ruled in August that the state’s gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional, but stayed his decision until Jan.5 to give the state time to appeal.

“This is a clear victory for us because it finds the harm is being done to the people, not the state,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, which is representing same-sex couples from throughout Florida and gay-rights group SAVE, who sued to have out-of-state same-sex marriages recognized in the Sunshine State.

“It means that relief is finally in sight for the same-sex married couples suffering under Florida’s refusal to recognize their legal unions,” SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima said in a statement. More here.