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8 posts from December 12, 2012

December 12, 2012

Crist to file party-switch papers Thursday; media alerted

It's the political photo-op of the year in Tampa Bay.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist will file a change-of-party form and will officially become a Democrat Thursday morning. News media have been alerted that Crist will file the papework at 10:30 a.m. at a Pinellas County elections office at 501 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Crist also visited the Pinellas elections office in May 2010, when he filed his Republican "divorce papers," left the GOP and became an independent or unaffiliated voter.

-- Steve Bousquet

Sen. Bill Nelson urges Justice Department to join Dozier graves investigation

From the Tampa Bay Times:

Sen. Bill Nelson on Wednesday called on the Department of Justice to assist a team of anthropologists and archaeologists from the University of South Florida that has been investigating the deaths of nearly 100 children at Florida's oldest reform school, the now-shuttered Dozier School for Boys outside the Panhandle town of Marianna.

Nelson (D-Fla.) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder after the USF team released a report on Monday saying it had found 50 grave shafts on school property, 19 more than Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators found during an investigation in 2009.

"The reform school may yield some ugly reminders about our past, but we absolutely must get to the bottom of this," Nelson said.

The USF team also said it believes there is another burial site on what had been the white side of campus before integration in the late 1960s. Erin Kimmerle, a professor and forensic anthropologist, said Monday that she had been in contact with the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida to talk about how to proceed. The team is continuing its investigation.

The state was trying to sell the property, but a judge ordered the sale be put on hold while the team searches for the remains of a boy who died under suspicious circumstances in 1934. The boy's family has been trying to locate his remains for decades.

"For the sake of those who died and the family members still living, we've got to find out what happened at that school," Nelson wrote to Holder. "I'm asking your department to provide support and assistance to USF researchers in a broadened search to look for more graves, as well as forensic evidence of possible crimes. The families deserve closure once and for all."

Read more here.


WCTV raises issues at Blind Services

Among the hundreds of pages in documents reviewed by the Herald/Times investigation into Division of Blind Services was an internal investigation that upturned severe employee unrest.

Here are some of the details, reported by WCTV. Among other problems, an inspector general report found high employee turnover (62 people voluntarily left in 2011) and a work environment that is "hostile" and "unfair."

The Herald/Times in November reported that many employees had tried to blow the whistle on lax oversight of no-bid state contracts, but were silenced by fear of division director Joyce Hildreth, a former leader in the industry she's now charged with overseeing. 

See the video here. 


Putnam touts upcoming milestone: 1 million concealed weapons permits

Sometime next week, somewhere in Florida, someone will become the state’s one millionth holder of a concealed weapons license.

That makes Florida No. 1 in the nation. Whether that’s a milestone worth celebrating or cringing at, Florida’s Secretary of Agriculture Adam Putnam deemed it worthy of a major news conference Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m asked about our licensing requirements more than any other topic,” Putnam said, responding to a question about why he was making such a fuss about next week’s projected milestone. The popularity of active concealed weapons permits has surged in Florida during the past 10 years, climbing from about 250,000 in 2000 to more than 1 million next week.

Putnam credited a love of the Second Amendment for the increase, but it probably has more to do with a number of laws and policies approved during that period that has improved access to licenses. While Putnam said the state’s low revocation rate of licenses was proof that the program worked and was responsible, he defended a 2006 law that keeps secret those who have permits – making it difficult to verify for the public just how safe the program is.

“The Legislature made the decision to protect gun owners and we should respect that,” said Putnam, who oversees the issuance of the permits. Putnam’s office did release some more general numbers. Did you know about 20 percent of permit holders are women? Or that nearly a quarter of those with concealed weapon licenses are above the age of 65?

One person happy to hear about the upcoming milestone was Marion Hammer, the powerful lobbyist who heads the National Rifle Association's state affiliate, the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, and did more than anyone else in easing the state’s gun laws.

“It’s great news,” Hammer said. “When the number of license holders increase, crime decreases. We have a record number of license holders now, and crime is the lowest it’s been in 40 years.”

But representatives from gun control groups said the 1 million mark was nothing to celebrate. “It should be a concern in Florida,” said Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “The state has basically let Marion Hammer write its gun policy.”

Watchdog groups: Gov. Scott can save Transparency 2.0

A day after Gov. Rick Scott told reporters that the fate of Transparency 2.0 budget accountability web site is not his problem because "that's controlled by the Senate," two watchdog groups have written a letter outlining his responsibility and urging him to save it.

Integrity Florida and the First Amendment Foundation urged the governor to put the $5 million already spent by the state into making the site public, instead of starting from scratch. Under state law, the governor is required to provide a budget transparency web site for the public.

The Florida Senate signed a no-bid contract with Spider Data Systems to develop the web site and make it available for staff and legislators to use. The web site has been ready to launch for a year but legislative leaders choose to keep it under wraps.

"You have set a goal of providing all citizens the information they need to make the same decisions as a legislator, which is exactly what Transparency 2.0, already paid for with nearly $5 million in taxpayer money would do. Why not let the public see the $5 million budget tracking program already paid for with their money?,'' wrote Dan Krassner of Integrity Florida and Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation in a letter to Scott on Wednesday.  Download Governor Scott can save Transparency 2.0 - Letter FAF IF 12.12.12

Continue reading "Watchdog groups: Gov. Scott can save Transparency 2.0" »

PolitiFact announces the 'Lie of the Year'

It was a lie told in the critical state of Ohio in the final days of a close campaign -- that Jeep was moving its U.S. production to China. It originated with a conservative blogger, who twisted an accurate news story into a falsehood. Then it picked up steam when the Drudge Report ran with it. Even though Jeep's parent company gave a quick and clear denial, Mitt Romney repeated it and his campaign turned it into a TV ad.

And they stood by the claim, even as the media and the public expressed collective outrage against something so obviously false.

People often say that politicians don’t pay a price for deception, but this time was different: A flood of negative press coverage rained down on the Romney campaign, and he failed to turn the tide in Ohio, the most important state in the presidential election.

PolitiFact has selected Romney's claim that Barack Obama "sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China" at the cost of American jobs as the 2012 Lie of the Year.

Snipes disagrees with label that Broward 'underperformed' in Election

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner took his tour of five counties that "underperformed" in the November election to Broward today where he met with Supervisor Brenda Snipes.

When asked after the meeting what she thought about Detzner saying that Broward "underperformed" Snipes said: "I let him know that I didn't appreciate that. It was wrong to put a label on an organization like that." She added that such a label can undermine voter confidence.

Detzner said after the meeting that "Broward did a good job" but he said that Broward had underperformed due to long early voting lines.

During the meeting, Snipes said she needs more flexibility in early voting sites -- some county libraries don't have sufficient space to process the large groups of voters and the machines. She said she preferred the 14 days of early voting -- including the Sunday before election day -- that were allowed before legislators passed H.B. 1355 in 2011. 

Several state legislators -- including Sen. Eleanor Sobel who is heading up an election task force -- attended.

Legislative leaders offer up raises to top staff as state workers go without

Florida’s new legislative leaders handed out hefty raises and salaries to many of their top staff and newly hired talent even as thousands of state workers went for a sixth year without a bump in pay.

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, who were sworn in last month, immediately hired new chiefs of staff and paid them more than taxpayers pay state Cabinet officials. They are paying 62 top policy advisors and staff directors more than $100,000 a year. And they gave salary increases totaling $252,000 to their 17 highest paid employees.

Giving the most in raises was Gaetz, R-Niceville, who promoted 10 people already making more than $100,000 a year in state jobs. The biggest promotion went to his top aide, Chris Clark, whose salary jumped from $77,000 as an aide in Gaetz’s legislative office to $150,000 as the Senate president’s chief of staff. Clark started in the Legislature in 1994, making $12,771 a year. Gaetz said his salary is commensurate with those who have held the job before.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, gave more modest pay increases to his highest earning staff. Seven employees, who earned more than $100,00, got raises totaling $52,000. Story here.

None of these salaries, however, can be found on Gov. Rick Scott's transparency site, FloridaHasARighttoKnow.com. The legislature has chosen not to provide its information for taxpayers to inspect their salaries. Here is the current list, as of Nov. 27, as provided to the Herald/Times. There are some changes. For example, former House chief of staff Mathew Bahl is no longer employed in the House but is still listed here:  Download Legislative staff 2012-13

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/12/11/3137822/legislative-leaders-dish-out-salary.html#storylink=cpy