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15 posts from January 23, 2013

January 23, 2013

Scott and Cabinet ignore concerns of enviros and approve no-bid Glades deal

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet unanimously approved the request of two agriculture companies Wednesday to allow them to renew their leases to farm state land in exchange for swapping other parcels with the state to use for Everglades clean-up efforts.

The governor, as well as Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater ignored concerns of environmental groups that the conditions of the leases to A. Duda & Sons and Florida Crystals were overly generous and will limit the state's options for cleaning up the Everglades in the future.

The environmentalists urged the Cabinet to slow down and re-negotiate a shorter-term lease that gives the state the options it may need if the restoration projects require more land in the future.

"You are the landlord and it is your right and your duty to insist that the tenant maximize their efforts to reduce the impact of the land," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. "The lease extensions preclude your ability to insist upon that accountability."

But Melissa Meeker, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, told the Cabinet there will be no need for the leased land.

Continue reading "Scott and Cabinet ignore concerns of enviros and approve no-bid Glades deal" »

Senate education panel hoped to hear from Gov. Rick Scott, settles for Commissioner Bennett

Gov. Rick Scott was scheduled to attend the Senate's Education Committee meeting this morning to talk about his education agenda, but he cancelled at the last minute. Although Education Commissioner Tony Bennett still made an appearance, Scott's absence was noted by Committee Chairman John Legg.

Legg, R-Port Richey, said he understands the governor is busy but it was Scott's office that requested the time. Senators were told they would received details about the governor's education agenda. Bennett talked about his education philosophy but was unable to provide the specifics Legg craves.

"I'm a black-and-white person. We can talk concepts all day but we're getting closer to session. And I thought that they were a little bit further along," Legg, said.

Even after removing the meeting from his calendar, Scott still has a packed schedule today with a Cabinet meeting and an an event in the Orlando area where he will propose pay raises for teachers.

Legg said he was happy to hear the governor may be proposing a boost in education spending.

Continue reading "Senate education panel hoped to hear from Gov. Rick Scott, settles for Commissioner Bennett" »

Ousted BSO officials get six-figure golden parachutes

When Col. Tim Gillette was ousted from his job with the Broward Sheriff’s Office this month as part of a transition to a new sheriff, he left with the paycheck of a lifetime: $340,653.

During his 36-year career with BSO, Gillette accrued 3,378.53 hours of sick time and 963.19 of vacation time — the equivalent of more than two years, when combined.

Gillette was one of 16 BSO employees who received wage payouts of more than $100,000 when they left BSO as Sheriff Al Lamberti’s tenure came to an end in January, according to BSO payout records as of the Jan. 18th payroll. In all, the agency anticipates it will pay $4.3 million to 53 employees for unused time off and sick days. The second highest amount was about $175,000.

Gillette, who earned about $163,000 a year, was one of 28 high-ranking officials who received notice in December from incoming Sheriff’s Scott Israel’s transition team that they were fired. By that point, additional higher-ups in the department had already announced they would go. Gillette’s earnings were $340,653.52 and, minus taxes and other deductions, his net pay was $223,808.56. Efforts to reach Gillette were not successful. Read more here.

The payouts are one more source of fighting between Lamberti and Israel and we suspect that we will hear more about this when Scott comes before the Broward County Commission with his budget request in a few months. One question we couldn't immediately answer: when Israel retired from Fort Lauderdale police department as a captain in 2004, what was his departing check? We are awaiting word back from Fort Lauderedale police. Israel told us in an interview that he didn't recall the amount but that it wasn't anywhere close to $340,000. We asked him if it was six-figures and he didn't sound certain, hesitated as he thought about it and said "I'm going to have to say no."

Rep. Stewart proposes using gun taxes to boost school safety

 From the News Service of Florida:

Tax collected on the sale of ammunition and guns would go into a "Safe Schools Trust Fund," to pay for additional guidance services and school safety measures under legislation filed in the House.

Freshman Rep. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, filed two bills on Friday creating the trust fund and directing revenue from the existing tax on guns and ammo into it. 

One of the bills filed by Stewart (HB 325), would also expand the ban on carrying guns at schools – widening the prohibition from school buildings to an area within 500 feet of a school – but would allow people to check their guns, exempting them from prosecution if they turn their gun in to someone when they arrive at a school. 

While prohibiting the carrying of guns within the 500-foot buffers known as "school safety zones," Stewart's bill would allow anyone who is in such a zone to surrender their gun to a law enforcement officer or school official and not be charged under the ban, as long as they haven't used the gun to violate the law in some way first. 

The legislation also would require school districts to add school safety issues to their guidance plans for students in kindergarten through grade 5. 

Continue reading "Rep. Stewart proposes using gun taxes to boost school safety" »

Enviros now asking for gov and Cabinet to delay action on Glades leases

In a letter today to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet, the Florida Wildlife Federation, 1000 Friends of Florida and the Everglades Law Center are asking them to delay action on a controversial item before them today that would grant no-bid contracts for 30-year leases to farm on Everglades land to give the state time to negotiate shorter terms.

"We question the wisdom and prudence of locking up state-owned land with new 30-year leases that make these lands unavailable for future environmental restoration projects,'' wrote Manley Fuller, Charles Pattison and Lisa Interlandi.

They also questioned a provision in the proposal that would allow Florida Crystals to lease the land under the condition that the leases could be terminated early on 2,200 acres of it if the state needed it for Everglades clean-up. The group said that offer has no guarantees.

"Upon reviewing the language presented to us yesterday, it appears it will take multiple years to invoke these provisions, some of which are so complex and onerous that it is questionable that they could ever be invoked,'' their letter said.

The decision could be a difficult one for Gov. Rick Scott as he faces re-election. His decision to enter into a settlement with sugar growers and the federal government last year is seen by environmentalists as an admirable achievement on an otherwise rocky environmental record.

The writers concluded with this sentence: "We believe the short delay would evidence your serious commitment to the stewardship of public lands."  Download Ltr-Scott-final-EAA_leases-012313