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340 posts from March 2010

March 31, 2010

Here it is: the secret severance offered to Greer

The state Republican Party is denying the severance agreement (download here) with Jim Greer is valid, saying the former chairman didn't sign the documents. Greer's attorney contends otherwise in a letter to the party written Tuesday (download). But what is lost is the fact the party offered him a severance and the party treasurers offered to absolve him, despite previous denials to the contrary. 

Continue reading "Here it is: the secret severance offered to Greer" »

Llorente defeats Rivera attempt to target Crist's appointees

The internal wars within the Miami-Dade delegation erupted into a light-hearted feud late Wednesday as Rep. Marcello Llorente successfully defeated a measure by Rep. David Rivera that requires all state agency heads to live within 50 miles of Leon County.

Rivera, the House Appropriations chairman, pushed the bill through his committee last week in an attempt to highlight the troubles of two of Gov. Charlie Crist's appointees, who have come under fire for spending taxpayer dollars commuting to Tallahassee from homes in St. Petersburg and Miami. Rivera is a former top deputy to Crist's U.S. Senate rival Marco Rubio and Llorente was a one-time rival to Rivera for a state Senate seat.

Llorente's amendment would have removed the residency requirement because, he argued, it was needed to eliminate "one other obstacle to a governor in terms of recruiting top talent to positions across the state.''

Rivera defended it, saying that "when tax dollars are involved we need to make sure it’s about the people's business and not personal business." The Herald/Times disclosed that the heads of the Department of Juvenile Justice and Department were spending taxpayer dollars traveling to their homes outside of Tallahassee on the weekends.

The measure failed on a voice vote but when enough members demanded a roll call vote, House Speaker Larry Cretul was forced to make a rare quorum call to spare his budget chairman from an embarrassing loss. 113 members showed up. With several Democrats siding with Llorente, his amendment was adopted: 58-57.

What's left of Rivera's bill? A requirement that agency heads now compile reports every three months detailing how much they spend on job-related travel.

After the vote, both Rivera and Llorente were smiling -- amid plenty of blackslapping and gritted teeth.

'Tea Party' files ethics complaint over Blackwater deal

Orlando attorney Fred O'Neal, who has registered the Tea Party with the Florida Division of Elections, has filed an ethics complaint over the Senate's deal to send state prisoners to the privately-run Blackwater River prison. The new prison is operated by the GEO Group.

"This behind-closed-doors deal stinks to high heaven," O'Neal said in a release. "This is just one more sordid chapter of the stench of corruption that fills the air over Tallahassee."

O'Neal is an anti-tax activist but has not been involved in recent tea party rallies that have galvanized interest on the right. The complaint might be moot, as Senate budget chief JD Alexander reached a deal with Democrats that would save 2,000 prison guard jobs.

RPOF gave Greer severance. And 'hush money'?

UPDATED: The state Republican Party signed a severance agreement with ousted Chairman Jim Greer upon his departure that cleared him of all wrongdoing and paid him $11,250 a month and health insurance to serve as an outside consultant, according to documents obtained by the Herald/Times.

State party officials have long denied the existence of the Jan. 4 agreement, which was authorized by now-party Chairman John Thrasher, Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, Speaker-designate Dean Cannon and party officials, including General Counsel Jason Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said in an interview late Wednesday that the contract is worthless because Greer never signed the document. (The copy obtained by the Herald/Times includes Greer's signature.)

"As we have previously stated, no agreement was fully executed," he said. "We haven't made any payments and we never will."

A letter written to the party Tuesday from Greer's attorney Damon Chase also alleges that associates of Haridopolos and Cannon offered to pay Greer $200,000 of "hush money" to stay quiet about the agreement.

Gonzalez also disputed this fact. "That's ridiculous," he said.

Greer is facing a criminal investigation for diverting party money to a company he controlled. But its unclear whether it would insulate Greer from any consequences.

As signed by party treasurer Joel Pate and vice treasurer Allen Miller, it states that "all RPOF expenditures made during Chairman Greer's term as RPOF Chairman were proper, lawful, appropriate ..."

Gonzalez said he believes Greer "procured that document ... by fraud and they had no idea that he has an ownership in Victory Strategies."

--Beth Reinhard contributed to this report

Debbie Wasserman Schultz pans the plan too

Broward Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz isn't a fan of the Obama administration's drilling plan either: "While I appreciate President Obama's commitment to developing a comprehensive energy policy, I have a long history of opposing expanded drilling for oil and gas off of Florida’s coasts and remain opposed today. 

"Ecologically, this exploration could threaten Florida’s unique coastal resources, home to 85% of the United States coral reefs. Economically, it threatens Florida’s $65 billion a year tourism industry which relies on pristine beaches. And strategically, it could compromise our military’s ability to effectively train in the Eastern Gulf while doing next to nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Adding a fraction of a percent to the global oil supply will not lower gas prices and ignores the critical need to develop alternative energy supplies that finally break our addiction to fossil fuels."

Greer calls investigation a 'political vendetta'

Former GOP Chairman Jim Greer's attorney released a statement responding to the allegations that he is the target of a criminal investigation. "The statements and actions of John Thrasher today against his predecessor, former GOP Chairman Jim Greer, are without merit and the continuation of a political vendetta intended to conceal the actions of others and blame Chairman Greer, a private citizen, for the conduct of elected officials," his attorney, Gregory Miller, wrote in a statement.

"Mr. Thrasher’s accusations are a heavy-handed attempt to avoid the Party’s formally documented financial and legal obligation to Mr. Greer, who has not committed any criminal activity and looks forward to cooperating fully with any investigation."

Cannon likes Obama oil drilling plan but says state needs it on its own terms

Incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon told the Herald/Times today that he was encouraged by the President Obama's announcement that he supporst opening Florida's eastern gulf coast to offshore oil drilling but emphasized that it's up to the state to put pressure on the feds "to do right."

Cannon, who has shepherded a legislative effort to to open Florida's near shore to oil and gas exploration and drilling, wants to pass another resolution to Congress urging them to lift the ban and emphasize that Florida "wants to be at the table so we make sure Florida's interests are protected.''

He said the House bill, which has yet to emerge, will require that drilling rigs can't be seen from the beach, that the military have the ability to override any drilling request and that the highest environmental standards be required.

"To me it’s very important that we do communicate that we do want our fiar share of revenues that may be derived from drilling in federal waters off our coast,'' he said. "One way to do that is set high standards and technological standards in near shoer waters that oculd put pressure on the feds to make sure they do it right."

Cannon said the House will pass a bill this year but admits that it's an uphill fight to get it through the Senate, where Senate President Jeff Atwater has indicated he opposes it. Passage of legislation this year is "helpful but not essential."

The Greer fallout leads to divergent reactions

Amid the fallout that Jim Greer, Charlie Crist's handpicked party chairman, is facing a criminal investigation, the speculation is rampant about how this will affect the political dynamic on the campaign trail.

Florida political consultant Rick Wilson said this would void Crist's ability to attack GOP U.S. Senate opponent Marco Rubio as a corrupt big-spender when Greer, his close friend, "used the party like his own ATM."

"Charlie is at the minimum going to be on the witness stand in this affair," said Wilson, who is supporting Rubio.

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Family in Florida gay adoption lawsuit to attend White House Easter egg roll

As he awaits a court ruling on the constitutionality of Florida's law banning gay people from adopting, Frank Gill and his recently adopted sons will attend this year's White House Easter Egg Roll. They are one of two families for whom Equality Florida has secured invitations to the annual family event.

The Third District Court of Appeals has yet to issued a decision on a lower court's finding that the ban is "unconstitutional."

"Florida's adoption ban is the most notorious state law in the country and we continue to work toward the day when it will be an embarrassing footnote in our nation's history," said Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida. Miami-Dade residents Mayda Perez and Simone Mayer and their three children also will attend.

Crist: Probe of Jim Greer is 'terribly disturbing'

Gov. Charlie Crist said the revelation that former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer is the subject of a criminal investigation following a party audit is "terribly disturbing." Greer was Crist's hand-picked candidate to lead the state party following the governor's election in 2006, and Crist remained publicly loyal to Greer until it became obvious in January that Greer had virtually lost all support. 

"I find it terribly disturbing to hear, but I know that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will certainly conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation," Crist said. Asked if the investigation could tarnish leading Republicans, Crist, who's trailing in polls as a U.S. Senate candidate, said: "I certainly hope that it does not. The acts of individuals are the acts of individuals, and that is for the people to decide."

Crist said he "had heard rumors" that Greer owned a stake in a consulting company, Victory Strategies, that was paid with party funds.

FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey reports to Crist and the Cabinet, and Crist is constantly accompanied by one or more FDLE agents, but the governor said he did not receive a heads-up of the FDLE probe of Greer. "I heard about it about an hour ago," Crist said at about 1:30 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.  

-- Steve Bousquet