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197 posts from November 2007

November 30, 2007

Governor's office says gossip item is wrong

Is one of those helping Gov. Charlie Crist lower property taxes his girlfriend? No, says the governor's office.

Carole Rome is among the names listed as a member of the host committee that is holding a fundraiser at the Trump Tower next week on behalf of Yes On 1 committee promoting the Jan. 29th property tax amendment. The headliner of course is Donald Trump himself.

The N.Y. Post's gossip page reports that Rome, however, is dating Crist even though she is in the midst of divorcing her husband. The Post reports the two have attended Miami Heat games, while other sources say the two were seen on the sidelines of the Bucs-Redskins game.

But a spokeswoman for Crist said Rome is not his "girlfriend." "She is a friend,'' corrected Erin Issac.

Regarding the fundraiser at Trump Tower, the invitation asks for a contribution of $1,000. But in an attached letter, Meredith O'Rourke urges people to come because it is a "special reception" with Crist and Trump in which donors will be helping Crist "fight for Florida's future."

Gulfstream files its brief in gambling case against gov

Gulfstream Racetrack has filed its amicus curiae brief in support of the lawsuit by House Speaker Marco Rubio against Gov. Charlie Crist for signing the 25-year gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe. It follows the Senate, which filed earlier today. Gulfstream's prime arguments:

* The gov doesn't have the authority to bind the state to the compact;

* Federal law doesn't give the governor authority to allow Class III gaming;

* The 45-day deadline on the Secretary of the Interior has no impact on the court.

Read it here: Download Amicus_Brief_Gulfstream.pdf

Crist in damage control in oyster-land

Gov. Charlie Crist's handling of the water dispute with Georgia over its withdrawals from the Apalachicola River's watershed isn't earning high praise in Apalachicola, where townsfolk met today to voice concerns about the future of the bay and their economy.

Shrimp catches are nearly non-existent for many. Osytermen report there's only one good oyster bar to work (four are dead or dying) due to hyper-salinity. And eco-tour company owners say flows are so low that the marsh is dry.

Associated Press reports that Crist 1) agreed to lower river flows and 2) backed away from it have many in Franklin County concerned. Crist disputed the report and yesterday assured a county delegation in the Capitol that he never struck a deal and he'll fight for the county. "I get it," he said. "I'm with you."

But is he? County officials say they believe Crist, but a number of citizens and fishermen aren't sure.

"He needs to get his ass up there and get to bat. He's striking out. It's a full count. Just swing the bat!" laughed Bruce Rotella, a 48-year-old lifelong oysterman.

Is this the 9th inning?

"For us it is," he said. "If he lets them take more water now and they go with that two-year program, In two years, I'll be out in Louisiana or somewhere else oystering. I won't even be able to live here. And I was born and raised here my whole life."

In an oystershell, here's the problem: The Army Corps of Engineers in 2006 limited water flows into the Apalachicola to about 5,000 cubic feet a second. And oystermen and shrimpers say that has been a killer. Yet now, the latest corps decision limits flows to 4,750 -- which is lower than what many say is too low.

But the state hasn't sued. At least not yet.

Crist's environment chief, Mike Sole, was at the Apalachicola meeting and talked tough to clear up any "misunderstandings." He said the state would fight in court but that Crist sees an opportunity to settle more than 15 years of litigation over the watershed.

Sole said Georgia Gov. Sonny "Perdue and the media" are looking at short-term solutions in "sprint mode" while Crist is looking at this as a marathon. Sole, crediting the reporting of the Tallahassee Democrat on the issue, also took time to knock the AP, saying "under no circumstances was a deal cut" with Georgia.

So where did that idea come from? Maybe it was this quote from Crist after the reduced water flows were announced at a Washington press conference: "I think that what we had today was a great discussion, a great understanding."

Mahoney off the endangered list?

Rep. Tim Mahoney, the Florida Democrat with a Republican target on his back, is touting a Washington Post.com blog item that takes Mahoney off a list of top 10 House seats most likely to switch parties in the 2008 election.

No word on why (or whether Mahoney is now ranked 11th). But Mahoney's campaign suggests it's because the Palm Beach Gardens Democrat has "strengthened his position through his hard work on behalf of his constituents." Mahoney and fellow Dem freshman, Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, scored a significant win last month with House passage of a windstorm insurance bill.

No Florida seats make the cut, though the Post notes that Rep. Bill Young, R-St. Petersburg, could face a harder fight than he's accustomed to and "might decide retirement is the more attractive option."

The item notes that "retirements continue to plague House Republicans chances at gaining seats."

Court to those who file false ethics complaints: Pay up!

The First District Court of Appeal this week ordered the Florida Commission on Ethics to force two political opponents of Santa Rosa Property Appraiser Greg Brown to pay the costs and attorney fees incurred by Brown in defending himself against two ethics complaints.

The Ethics Commission had concluded that the complaints filed by Robert Burgess and Hilton Kelly had no merit and called them "shameful" and politically motivated. But they turned down a request from Brown to force the two to pay roughly $40,000 in attorney fees and other costs, despite a recommendation from an administrative law judge that sided with Brown.

But the ruling written by Judge Phil Padavano said that the Ethics Commission was wrong because commissioners believed they needed to show "actual malice" by Burgess and Kelly, in accordance to the standards set down by the U.S. Supreme Court in libel cases. Padavano said the Legislature did not include "actual malice" in the statute that allows someone to recover attorney fees and he noted that Burgess and Kelly did not make their statements in a press conference, but instead filed a complaint against him.

"The First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of expression, but it would be a far cry to extrapolate from this proposition that the First Amendment also guarantees a right to initiate a legal proceeding based on false allegations,'' wrote Padavano in an opinion approved by a three-judge panel, including Clay Roberts, the former elections division head appointed to the court by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Romney Jr. wants to translate for Dad at Univision debate

Republican Mitt Romney's son has made a radio ad in Spanish touting mi padre and served as his ambassador to elderly voters in Little Havana. Now Craig Romney would like to take on a new role: Dad's translator at the Dec. 9 debate at the University of Miami to be broadcast on Univision.

Seems doubtful that Univision would let Romney translate questions asked in Spanish into English, since the network wouldn't let candidates Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd use their fluent Spanish in the Democratic debate in September.

"We wish we could bring our own interpreter,'' said Romney supporter Al Cardenas, the Cuban-American former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. "It would be fun for for him to interpret for his dad, and it would demonstrate Gov. Romney's sensitivity to culture and language."

Speaking of which, someone might want to advise Romney not to describe Latin America as the "backyard,'' of the United States, as he did this week in a published column on Venezuela. Some Latin Americans consider the term offensive, noting that it takes longer to fly from Washington to Moscow than to Buenos Aires.

Commission wants legislative help

The Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission may go to the Florida Legislature in the upcoming session to ask that lawmakers waive a requirement that the ballot summary for commission amendments be limited to no more than 75 words.

An ad hoc committee on "ballot summary issues" discussed the matter on Friday morning. Former Senate President John McKay said the commission should have some flexibility in how long the summary should be. Former House Speaker Allan Bense said that while he's not doing "backflips" over the idea, he said there was some merit in it.

Bense noted that the ballot summary for the Jan. 29th property tax amendment was nearly 500 words long and he was worried that some voters will vote against something that is too long. But then he added: "I wouldn't want not to be able to put forth good public policy." Bense also added that his comment did not mean he was opposed to the Jan. 29th amendment.

Senate joins with Rubio against Crist. Sort of.

The Florida Senate has asked the Florida Supreme Court to let it appear as a "friend of the court" and file an amicus brief in favor of House Speaker Marco Rubio's lawsuit against Gov. Charlie Crist over whether Crist has exceeded his authority in negotiating a compact with the Seminole Tribe.

What this means is that the Senate agrees that Rubio was right to ask the court to decide the issue. But the Senate isn't going to the lengths of actually intervening in the case. And the Senate isn't as confrontational as the House in its legal filing.

The brief filed by the Senate on Friday morning said the Senate is "in doubt" as to whether Crist can approve the compact without legislative approval and that it raises "fundamental questions" about the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. But the brief does not have the sharp tone of the House lawsuit, suggesting instead that the lawsuit is appropriate because the court needs to decide whether or not the compact should be ratified by the Legislature. Read it here:Download amicus_brief_florida_senate.pdf

Handfield wins ethics appointment

The latest appointments to Florida's Commission on Ethics include a prominent Miami attorney and civic leader with connections to the developer at the center of a troubled development project in Miami-Dade County.

Larry Handfield, who for more than three years led Miami-Dade's Public Health Trust overseeing Jackson Memorial Hospital, was appointed to the state ethics group earlier this month by Gov. Charlie Crist. The appointment, announced Nov. 23, requires Senate confirmation. His term would run through June 2009.

Handfield is also vice chairman of the venerable James E. Scott Community Association - a connection that brought him some scrutiny this year, because he represents a developer accused of illegally funneling campaign contributions to JESCA's president: County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle.

The developer, Dennis Stackhouse, was at the center of a now-scuttled deal to build a biotech park in Liberty City. He was arrested in September, accused of illegally reimbursing employees for $8,000 in campaign donations. He is also under investigation - but has not been charged - for double-billing a county-funded poverty agency for more than $500,000.

Handfield represents Stackhouse in both cases.

Eight months before the donations were made, Handfield was among the Public Health Trust members who voted in favor of another deal with Stackhouse. The deal had Jackson Memorial Hospital - run by the trust - agree to lease clinic space in the proposed biotech park instead of building its own with millions of dollars provided by the state.

Handfield said that as chairman of the Public Health Trust, he had no knowledge of the biotech project.

"All those things were in the pipeline and were staff-driven, which is usual," Handfield said. "I never met Mr. Stackhouse before he came into my office trying to seek my legal services. I did not advocate anything on his behalf."

Handfield also signed a letter from JESCA to Stackhouse seeking charitable donations, but said it was one of hundreds of unaddressed letters and that he did not know Stackhouse had been solicited. There are so many such letters every year, "I get tired of signing," he said.

"I have no idea who they're going to," he said.

Crist's office did not return a call Thursday.

During his years as chairman, Handfield led the trust through financial and administrative struggles, bringing the organization from a $150 million deficit to a $68 million surplus.

He also raised his already-high profile as a member of Miami's civic scene. The Carol City Senior High graduate worked under state attorney Janet Reno and a federal prosecutor, later going into private practice where he represented numerous high-profile defendants.

He also chaired the City of Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel, challenging Police Chief John Timoney over reporting police shootings and other issues.

His earlier gubernatorial appointments include the Sentencing Guidelines Commission - a group that overhauled Florida's criminal sentences - and the 11th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, which he chaired.

He also serves on the board of trustees of Bethune-Cookman University, his alma mater, which named a music building in his honor.

Giuliani returns to the sixth borough

After a bumpy couple of days -- a lackluster performance in Wednesday's CNN/YouTube debate, reports of his use of the city's security detail to visit his mistresss -- Rudy Giuliani returns to friendly turf and the next best thing to home in New York: South Florida.

He's scheduled to host a 3:30 p.m. town meeting at the Boca Raton Marriott and attend a $2,300-per-person reception this evening at the St. Regis Resort in Fort Lauderdale.

Just a guess: Hizzoner will try to stick to comfortable topics like fighting terrorism and crime. He was forced into talking about gun control, abortion and even the Bible at Wednesday's CNN/YouTube debate.

The fundraiser is being organized by Giuliani's under-45, "All-American" fundraising team in Florida led by John Scherer of Gulf Building Corp.