February 09, 2011

Mica hires former Florida DOT Secretary to work in DC

New House Transportation Chairman John Mica told a high speed rail conference today that's he hired former Florida Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos to serve as the committee's special counsel.

Mica said she'll work for several months, along with other transportation officials, to root out "unnecessary regulations and red tape."

The transportation committee also oversees infrastructure and Mica tomorrow turns his attention to underused federal buildings. The title of the hearing: "Sitting on Our Assets: Cutting Spending and Private Redevelopment of Underperforming Buildings."

Mica was speaking at the U.S. High Speed Rail Association conference in Washington where Tampa Democrat Rep. Kathy Castor spoke Tuesday. 

- MICHAEL DOYLE, McClatchy Washington Bureau

July 15, 2010

Scott hits McCollum on state plane use

Rick Scott's 527, "Lets Get to Work," is up with a new ad, criticizing Bill McCollum for using state aircraft to the tune of $280,000. A commercial cites a Times/Herald report from last summer showing McCollum, CFO Alex Sink and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp's apparent misuse of state planes. The report lead the Cabinet members to curtail their use of official travel.

The 527's latest media buy figures show he bought time from Wednesday through July 20, for a total of $1.6 million. The buy includes saturation in the Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Panama City and Tallahassee markets.

June 30, 2010

Crist asks for another $50M from BP for tourism ads

Gov. Charlie Crist has asked BP for another $50 million for tourism advertising. In a letter to BP's Chief Operating Officer, Doug Suttles, Crist says the state has already "deployed" the initial round of $25 million. (Officials have told us the money is planned for throughout the summer but has not yet been spent.)

"Your investment in Florida's tourism marketing not only helps Floridians, but it also benefits your company," Crist wrote. "Remember that visitors coming to Florida beaches, staying in Florida hotels and eating in Florida restaurants result in fewer claims for economic losses."

May 25, 2010

Extra BP cash in hand; expanded TV ads coming

At an impromptu press conference, Gov. Charlie Crist has announced that the extra $25 million is in the bank, and was received via wire transfer. It's ready to be spent on more TV spots promoting Florida's sugar-sand beaches. (The money, of course, was the subject of sharp criticism this morning at a Cabinet meeting.)

Crist's chief of staff, Shane Strum, will convene a task force on how to best use the money to "flood the market in the next 60 days with accurate information" about Florida's beaches and fishing areas.

Visit Florida director Chris Thompson, said the agency will develop a series of new ads that are specifically tailored for Northwest Florida. He called it a "broad stroke" message that could be amplified by matching dollars from media companies such as Clear Channel radio.

Crist said he hopes the ads aren't too late for Memorial Day weekend: "A lot of people make their plans late. It gives them the opportunity (to consider the Panhandle) if they hadn't made their plans yet."

A Panhandle divided: Sen. Peaden stands up for Crist

Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, just sent out this release, commenting on fellow Panhandle Sen. Don Gaetz's criticisms of the response to the oil spill: (Worth noting that Peaden still supports Crist's run for Senate.)

“I am disappointed in my friend and colleague Senator Gaetz. I have been with the Governor as he traveled to the affected Northwest Gulf Coast counties and met with our constituents, from oystermen and fisherman, to our restaurants and hotels. They know as I know that the Governor is fighting for them. 

“Now is not the time to score political points. We should unite together behind the families and businesses that are hurting the most.  As a Senator from the Panhandle region, I recognize the Governor’s hard work and stand ready to continue the fight against those who caused this terrible spill.”

Is Gaetz right about the oil spill response ads?

There's no oil on Florida's beaches. And the state's tourism department wants you to know that. How are they going to tell you? With these two TV ads. One, embedded below, began running in major southeast markets such as Atlanta, Houston and Raleigh on Saturday. A second spot will begin running Thursday.

These ads were produced using $2.5 million in emergency tourism funding. Another $25 million from BP will pay for new spots, as well as wider distribution.

Reaction? Ask Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican: “Those spots were e-mailed to me and others. I looked at them, and I must say that they were of exceedingly poor quality, and there is no Northwest Florida emphasis."

Gov. Charlie Crist wasn’t exactly blown away by the quality either: “They can always be better, there’s no question about it.”

Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson also described the ads as "generic:" "To me, looking at what you had was great, but it's like looking at an orange juice commercial that was cut two years ago and is still running today."

May 08, 2010

Who spent the most on GOP plastic? Here's the list.

The Republican Party of Florida released 2,452 double-sided pages of credit card statements Friday revealing 31 card holders spent about $7.3 million from January 2007 through March 2010. Below is the list of every card holder and how much they spent. (Do note that the totals only reflect charges starting in 2007, even though many of these officials held American Express cards prior to that date.)

Jim Rimes, former executive director: $2.2 million

Delmar Johnson, former executive director: $1.4 million

Melanie Phister, aide to former Speaker Ray Sansom: $1.2 million

Debbie Bishop, deputy finance director: $694,000

Jim Greer, former chairman: $478,000

Cameron Ulrich, Senate campaigns finance director: $208,000

Carrie Madden, Senate campaigns staffer: $175,000

Ray Sansom, former House speaker: $167,000

Dean Cannon, incoming House speaker: $124,000

Jeremy Collins, special assistant to Greer: $118,000

Continue reading "Who spent the most on GOP plastic? Here's the list." »

March 31, 2010

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.

February 09, 2010

State pays for 55 of health chief's weekend trips to S. Florida

IMG_1805 Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros, Florida's top health official, has spent nearly $130,000 on taxpayer-funded travel in her first three years on the job and has spent at least a third of her weekends in her hometown of Miami.

The state surgeon general's travel pattern has not changed despite a belt-tightening edict a year ago from Gov. Charlie Crist's office and recent scrutiny of state travel by agency heads.

Viamonte Ros said her trips to South Florida took her to an "important hub" that allows her to reach Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Broward and Collier counties and the Keys.

"If I did stay over a weekend, it was always at my own home and no expense at all to the state, and I was always back immediately first thing in the morning on Monday," Viamonte Ros said.

To be sure, all trips included official speaking events or meetings. Viamonte Ros reimbursed the state when she used her rental car on off days. Staying at her Coral Gables condo saved money on hotels.

But the trips at taxpayers' expense allowed the surgeon general to spend time at home on most holidays and many weekends. (Full story here)

February 04, 2010

DJJ yanks free cars for Peterman, 3 aides

Florida Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman and three high-ranking deputies have surrendered their free take-home cars after a state investigation said the vehicles might violate federal tax rules on unreported income.

The department issued the cars to Peterman and three top aides because they frequently visit field offices and must be on call to respond to emergencies. The cars are considered perquisites, or perks.

"Effective immediately, all of the perquisite vehicles assigned to Tallahassee staff have been rescinded," Peterman wrote in a memo to his staff Tuesday. "These vehicles will now join the state vehicle pool and be requested as needed."

A Jan. 26 report by Gov. Charlie Crist's chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, reads: "Based on Florida statutes and other governing directives, personal use of a state-issued vehicle by an employee may constitute a taxable fringe benefit." The report said the Juvenile Justice Department has not issued tax forms on the cars. (Full story is here)