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275 posts from January 2015

January 31, 2015

Crews: Scott, consumed by image, ignored crisis facing prison system

Mike Crews@JKnipeBrown and @MaryEllenKlas

It was July 10, 2014. Mike Crews, then-secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, was in the thick of a public firestorm over allegations that a mentally ill inmate had died in a scalding shower as part of a punishment ritual by officers at Dade Correctional Institution.

Crews, a former law enforcement officer who had been at the helm of the state’s largest agency for close to three years, had been fielding calls from the governor’s office for weeks. Each message seemed more urgent than the last, with Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign in full swing and civil rights groups calling for a U.S. Justice Department investigation into a series of questionable prison deaths.

“We need you to take a bullet for the governor,’’ Crews recalled being told by the governor’s chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, as he was driving home that afternoon from North Carolina, where and he and his wife had spent a few days decompressing.

The former prisons chief, in an exclusive interview with the Miami Herald, said the governor’s office asked him to fire people Crews didn’t believe should fired; it wrote press releases that said things he didn’t say, and orchestrated hastily arranged news conferences that were little more than smokescreens designed to distract from the real crisis that Crews was sounding the alarm on for years: Florida’s prisons were so rundown and understaffed that they had become dangerous.

“I guess you can say they were more concerned with the crafting and writing of news releases and that had little to do with the reality of what needed to be done to keep the institutions safe and secure,’’ Crews said of the governor’s office. Story here. 


January 30, 2015

Elián González case proved early test for Jeb Bush



Late at night on Good Friday a decade and a half ago, Jeb Bush was glued to his email.

The nation was gripped with the saga of a 6-year-old boy in Miami named Elián González. People like Cindy Kucharski were so upset over Elián’s imminent return to his father in Cuba that she sent an email titled, “Pontius Clinton Washes his hands & Leaves Elian Case To Reno,” referring to President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.

“I have a real sense of dread for what this administration will do to this little boy. We need to be prayerful this weekend,” Kucharski wrote.

It was 10:58 p.m. on April 21, 2000. Seven minutes later, the governor of Florida weighed in.

“I don’t believe that the feds will take the child this weekend,” Bush wrote, signing off simply as “Jeb.”

He was wrong. The feds seized Elián shortly after 5 a.m. the next day. Armed with automatic weapons, they took the boy from the Little Havana home where he had been staying with relatives. Bush, who had stayed up emailing until around 3:30 a.m., was stunned.

Fifteen years later, the Elián González case offers a portrait of Jeb Bush — now a likely presidential candidate — managing one of his first crises in office. Barely a year into his first term, Bush was forced to straddle two worlds: his community, full of passionate Cuban exiles refusing to send young Elián back to Fidel Castro’s communist regime, and the federal government, caught in a diplomatic flap over an international family-custody battle.

More here.

Photo credit: Alan Diaz, AP

Ad campaign against David Beckham MLS stadium at PortMiami wins award


When you beat David Beckham at something -- even away from the soccer field -- people take notice. So it was for the advertising firm hired to campaign against Beckham's idea to build a Major League Soccer stadium at PortMiami. 

Joe Slade White, a New York-based firm, won a national advertising award in public affairs campaigning. The firm was hired last year by the Miami Seaport Alliance, a group led by Royal Caribbean Cruises, to produce anti-port stadium TV spots. One memorably featured a snail oozing along. "Ever get the feeling that traffic here in Miami can't get much worse?" it began.

There was no mention of Beckham, and no opposition to soccer in general. But polling and focus groups showed the alliance could make an impact by arguing the port was a bad location because of  downtown traffic.

Facing political headwinds, Beckham and his investors quickly took the port location off the table. For the ad firm, that was something to brag about. White noted the award in an email this week.

"David Beckham is used to winning at pretty much anything he does," White told the Miami Herald on Friday. "They thought they'd be able to put it wherever they wanted. I think they took it for granted. They were assured it was going to be easy."

Since having a second location rebuffed, Beckham and his investors have yet to settle on a stadium site.

If and when they do, though, they may want to know this: White's firm also created ads for a successful referendum 18 years ago in Washington state to build CenturyLink Field in Seattle. 

Scott's office silenced Bailey and Putnam not happy

In ways large and small, Gov. Rick Scott's office made life miserable for Gerald Bailey.

Bailey's firing as commissioner of FDLE has become a media firestorm and the worst controversy of Scott's tenure as governor. Here's another incident, one that has Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam shaking his head in dismay, and it involves paying about 300 FDLE employees more money.

Bailey's last appearance as FDLE commissioner was at the Dec. 9 Cabinet meeting, where he gave a presentation on crime statistics and mentioned the Thanksgiving weekend surge in applications for concealed weapons permits. But there was another issue that two Cabinet members wanted to discuss: the unusually high turnover rate among FDLE crime lab analysts, and how Bailey planned to fix it.

"We're having tremendous turnover problems," Bailey testified. "We're considered a training ground for the other county labs that recruit our people."

FDLE had a proposed solution: Ask Scott and the Legislature for $1.8 million to give the crime lab analysts a 10 percent pay increase. But Bailey told the Times/Herald he was ordered by one of Scott's budget aides to keep quiet about the pay plan at the Cabinet meeting. He said the word came from an employee in the Office of Policy and Budget, Bonnie Rogers, who deals with law enforcement agencies' budgets.

Bailey said he was not told why and he did as told, even when Putnam tried to break the code during the meeting: "Have we seen y'all's legislative and budget priorities yet?" Putnam asked Bailey. (CFO Jeff Atwater first raised the subject at the meeting).

"We were asked to present that at the next Cabinet meeting," Bailey replied. There would be no next Cabinet meeting for Bailey, who was ousted one week later.

The governor's office, in its recent FAQ document of frequently asked questions, said: "In October, the Office of Policy and Budget recommended that FDLE not include any pay increases in their legislative budget requests because pay increases for all state agencies were to be considered as a whole at a later date." Scott's budget, released this week, made no mention of the salary bump for FDLE analysts and has no across-the-board pay increase for state workers.

In an interview, Putnam expressed his frustration and said he wants future budget requests from Cabinet agencies to be given to the Cabinet at the same time they are given to the governor and Legislature. The proposal is one of several to be considered at next Thursday's Cabinet meeting. "That is not a good way to manage Cabinet agencies," Putnam said.


Process starts for Amendment 1 structure changes

The early steps of implementing Amendment 1 have started, but there's a long way to go. 

Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, filed legislation Friday to restructure state funds that provide for buying and maintaining land for conservation, in accordance with the constitutional amendment, which passed in November. 

Continue reading "Process starts for Amendment 1 structure changes" »

Fact-checking the 2015 Super Bowl

With Super Bowl Sunday fast approaching, PolitiFact took a break from planning our parties (guacamole!) to research and report a couple of new fact-checks. 

We first looked at a claim arising from the controversy of underinflated footballs. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick made the claim that atmospheric conditions could push a football’s pressure "down approximately one-and-a-half pounds per square inch." (Belichick's Patriots will face off against the Seattle Seahawks, coached by Pete Carroll.)

We also looked at claims related to sex trafficking and domestic violence and the Super Bowl. Turn to PolitiFact to read what we found. 

New complaint on FDLE debacle filed with Commission on Ethics


A day after State Attorney Willie Meggs took a pass on investigating the ouster of Gerald Bailey from commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, a Villages resident asked if the Florida Commission on Ethics cared to take a look at what happened.

"This is a complaint as to whether it is ethical for Gov. Rick Scott of Florida and the State of Florida to fire Jerry Bailey...in secret meetings not open to the public and without the knowledge and consent of Florida State Cabinet officials," Charles Swofford stated in the complaint.

Download FDLE ethics complaint

Swofford, a Connecticut retiree and a registered Democrat, is no expert on ethics. But under Florida law, he doesn't have to be. Any person can file an ethics complaint as long as it stems from factual allegations and it is not malicious. Swofford said he filed his complaint after reading reports of Bailey's dismissal in newspapers.

Filing ethics complaints is fast becoming habit for Swofford, who filed his first ethics complaint in October against Bernard Nash, a partner of the Washington D.C. law firm Dickstein Shapiro for allegedly violating state law in lobbying Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Swofford said he hasn't heard back from the Commission on Ethics regarding his October complaint.

His latest complaint is a no-brainer, Swofford told the Times/Herald.

"It's clear as day that this was done without the consent of the Cabinet," Swofford said. "This is a clear breakdown of state government." 

Continue reading "New complaint on FDLE debacle filed with Commission on Ethics" »

Venezuela makes wrongly detained Miami Herald reporter the face of....tourism?

From @jimwyss:

Venezuela is at a tourism convention in Spain this week trying to draw visitors. It has to be a tough sell, considering it’s one of the most murderous countries in the hemisphere and is prone to civil unrest.

Perhaps as part of the campaign, they’ve rolled out a hash-tag called #Amamosavenezuela or “We love Venezuela.” In a promo on state-run Telesur television the tag-line reads: “We love Venezuela for receiving foreigners like one of our own.”

Unfortunately, they’re using a picture of me at Miami International Airport from Nov. 2013. The reason I’m so happy is because I’m just getting back to the U.S. after spending 48 hours in detention in Venezuela.

Considering there are still dozens of people under arrest for protesting last year, perhaps the tag-line is right on.



The Hill: Debbie Wasserman Schultz cast House vote on Mario Diaz-Balart's behalf


Voting for another member of Congress is technically a no-no.

But that's what Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat and the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, did this week for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, according to The Hill.

Diaz-Balart was wrapping up an interview with a reporter when Wasserman Schultz walked by.

“Deb, are you going in?” he asked before handing her his voting card. “Can you…” he said, trailing off as he handed her the card.

Wasserman Schultz, whose day job at the DNC means she's usually acting as the party's attack dog against Republicans, tilted her head quizzically and half-shrugged.

"Yeah, the opposite, the opposite," Diaz-Balart said with a laugh, asking her to vote as him in the opposite way as she was voting during a roll-call vote. 

Wasserman Schultz headed onto the House floor.

“He handed off his voting card to me, yes,” she told The Hill upon her return a minute later.

Members of Congress are collegial -- even across party lines -- and that's been especially true among Wasserman Schultz (in spite of her partisan role) and Cuban-American Republicans. When Democrats lined up to challenge Diaz-Balart, his brother Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2008, Wasserman Schultz took heat for sitting the races out, in deference to her colleagues.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, told The Hill he would "take care of that matter."

The Florida Chamber's claim about the uninsured

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is weighing in on the state’s rising cost of health care, decrying the Affordable Care Act’s plans to expand Medicaid, but acknowledging uninsured residents cost big bucks.

A chamber task force on Jan. 13, 2015, released a seven-point plan entitled "Smarter Healthcare Coverage in Florida," ahead of a potential fight among state lawmakers about how to cover the uninsured; Florida’s annual legislative session starts March 3. The group made it pretty clear they don’t endorse President Barack Obama’s health care law, calling it "a bureaucratic malaise that is taxing Americans and making our country less competitive" by shifting costs to businesses and taxpayers, and forcing up insurance premiums.

They do acknowledge that Florida having the second-highest number of uninsured residents is a problem that needs fixing.

"Floridians pay an additional $1.4 billion in hidden health care taxes to cover health care received by the uninsured," the report read. "Insured Floridians pay about $2,000 for every hospital stay to cover the cost of the uninsured."

Making insured residents pay an extra $2,000 per hospital stay piqued our interest, because that’s a hefty add-on to already high medical bills. We wondered whether it was a true expense, or if the chamber was just padding its own invoice. Turn to Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida.