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18 posts from March 8, 2013

March 08, 2013

CEO of Miami-Dade Beacon Council ousted

The Beacon Council board ousted Frank Nero as CEO of the Miami-Dade economic-development agency Friday, ending his 17 years as the county’s top recruiter of new companies, according to a board member who participated in the closed-door meeting Friday morning.

The tax-funded non-profit named Robin Reiter, a former chair of the Beacon Council and consultant for local foundations, to be the interim CEO while the board searches for a permanent replacement, Reiter confirmed. In an interview, Reiter said she was no interested in taking the job permanently, and would assist in a nationwide search expected to last between three and six months.

“My role will be to be the glue that keeps everyone together. They are a wonderful group of professionals,’’ Reiter said in an interview Friday. “Frank built a fabulous institution.”

Nero resigned his post on Friday, effective immeidately, the board member said.

After firings of internal investigators sparked controversy, Citizens Insurance hires new forensic unit

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which came under heavy scrutiny last year for firing four internal investigators who had discovered evidence of executive misconduct, has announced that new forensic accountants have been hired to root out fraud.

Citizens has hired three forensic professionals, forming a team that Joe Martins, the company’s Chief of Internal Audit, says will “provide an unprecedented level of internal oversight.” 

The abrupt disbanding of the Office of Corporate Integrity last year raised eyebrows, especially after the Herald/Times unveiled documents showing that the investigators had drafted an explosive report shortly before being ousted.

The report included evidence of large severance packages for disgraced employees, mishandled internal investigations, altered documents and a number of embarrassing workplace mishaps.

Citizens claimed that the firings were part of a restructuring effort, and the company announced Friday that the hiring of new forensic professionals is part of that effort.

Gov. Rick Scott said the OCI firings “concerned” him and asked his Inspector General to investigate last year. The report on that investigation, which follows another investigation into excessive travel spending at the state-run insurer, is expected to be released soon. In addition to the two inspector general reports, Citizens has come under fire for giving out large raises to executives, failing to negotiate large contracts and inadvertently giving away $2.5 million to another insurance company (the money has since been recouped).

Yesterday, Scott said he was “very disappointed” in what is going on at Citizens and he has asked the executives to return the large raises they received last year. Citizens said the raises were necessary to help the company compete with the private insurance industry, where compensation is higher.

The company's board is expected to address the salary issue at its next board meeting, but it's unclear if the executives will follow Scott's orders and return the money they've already received.

Citizens’ press release is below.

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Gov. Rick Scott's bold ethics reform promise: stalled or dropped?

Long before the Legislature saw the need for new ethics laws, Gov. Rick Scott made a bold commitment to fight public corruption.

But he hasn’t followed through.

On his first day in office in 2011, Scott issued an executive order that preserved an Office of Open Government and added a new code of conduct for everyone working for him that in some areas was stricter than state law.

The order also directed Scott’s then-special counsel, Hayden Dempsey, to study a fresh statewide grand jury report on public corruption and push parts of it through the Legislature. But nothing came of it, even though Scott demanded in his campaign in 2010 that he be held accountable for his promises.

“This was a promise of the governor,” said Dan Krassner of Integrity Florida. “Florida needs Gov. Scott’s leadership on ethics reform.”

Two years later, the grand jury’s recommendations on what it called “an enormous issue, which is broad in scope and long in history” are still not law, though parts are in an ethics bill that passed the Senate Tuesday. More from Steve Bousquet here. 


Foes of Miami Dolphins' stadium bill to travel to Tallahassee


Norman Braman has found an ally in his opposition to the Miami Dolphins' proposed stadium redo, which would be partly funded by state and county tax dollars.

Ed MacDougall, mayor of Cutler Bay, a town in South Miami-Dade County, revealed at a Miami-Dade League of Cities meeting Thursday night that he plans to spend his own money to set up a political committee to campaign against the Dolphins' efforts, if necessary. He plans to name it Stop the Stadium Madness.

"I'm in favor of a man who has $4.4 billion, according to Forbes Magazine, paying for it himself," MacDougall, a self-described Dolphins fan, said of the team's owner, Stephen Ross.

MacDougall said he and Braman would be traveling to Tallahassee on Friday morning to speak against HB 165 at a Florida House finance and tax subcommittee hearing. Braman, a Miami auto magnate and billionaire himself, has not given MacDougall any money, the mayor said, but the two have met and agreed to partner in their opposition.

MacDougall, a Republican in a nonpartisan post, urged other mayors to join them, saying some 20 mayors have told him privately that they too think the stadium redo -- funded in part by a state sales-tax subsidy and by a hike in mainland Miami-Dade hotel taxes -- could mean less public money available for their cities.

"You don't work for anyone else but the people that you serve," he said. "We need sidewalks. Our streets, they need work."

At the League of Cities meeting, held at the Miami Shores Country Club, MacDougall spoke after Dolphins CEO Mike Dee, who said he, too, is against "stadium madness." Dee, who has been reticent to mention the Miami Marlins, whose largely publicly funded stadium may kill the Dolphins' plan in a potential referendum, according to a poll released this week.

"We've been accused by the Marlins of launching a smear campaign against them, which was quite amusing," Dee said. "We have learned from their campaign, which is, whatever they did, we'll do the opposite."

Stadium bill pits banks against Miami Dolphins in Florida Senate

As the Dolphins’ stadium bill scores victories in Tallahassee, Miami’s banking industry may be facing off against its favorite football team.

Both local institutions find themselves on opposite ends of the Senate version of the Dolphins’ bill, which was amended this week to kill a tax break for foreign banks in Florida as a way to pay for a new stadium subsidy. Miami banks have an estimated $6 billion in foreign deposits, and industry lobbyists are warning the bill as written could thin out a staple of the city’s financial scene.

“Banks can easily move’’ to states that have the tax break, including Georgia and New York, said Anthony DiMarco, the top lobbyist for the Florida Bankers Association. “They’re paying employees down there that are making good money. That probably will be moving out of Miami.”

The amendment would end a 1980s law that shields Florida banks from paying corporate taxes on revenue earned from foreign deposits and offshore loans. Backers of the amendment say that because of changes in federal banking law, multi-state banks can now qualify for lower Florida tax bills even if their foreign-deposit facilities are located in other states.

“This exemption, quite frankly... has outlived its usefulness,’’ said the amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Republican representing Volusia County.

Jeb Bush, Miami GOP mourn passing of Mary Ellen Miller

Mary Ellen Miller, a revered Republican elder stateswoman who rose through party-activist ranks to twice chair the party in Miami-Dade County, died Wednesday at her Venetian Island home.

She was a dignified, private person who declined to discuss her illness, which took even close friends by surprise, according to Liliana Ros, a longtime GOP committeewoman and friend.

Often compared to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Miller advised Republican governors, local officials, members of Congress and the Florida Legislature.

She was known for being as discreet as she was connected. It’s said that she never spoke ill of anyone, even Democrats.

“Even after she retired, we still went to her,’’ Ros said. “She knew everything: state laws, party laws. She was very gentle, sweet. She had no ego, and that in politics that is very unusual. … She would get upset if you praised her.’’

Over the years, Miller supported Sen. Marco Rubio, former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, both Bush presidents, and former Gov. Jeb Bush, among others.

“Mary Ellen was a great Republican and an even finer person,’’ Jeb Bush, who’d been the county’s party chairman in the 1980s, wrote in an email. “No one worked harder. No one was more committed. You could count on Mary Ellen Miller, and everyone did.’’

More here

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/07/3272439/mary-ellen-miller-former-chairwoman.html#storylink=cpy


Five Things To Know for Friday's Legislative Session

TALLAHASSEE -- A legislative week marked by the Senate's fast passage of an ethics reform bill will end with a senator formally answering ethics charges.

Here are five things to watch on Friday:

* The case of Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, will come before the Commission on Ethics. He's accused of not including his checking account on a financial disclosure form. The ethics bill (SB 2) that cleared the Senate on the session's first day would allow elected officials a 60-day grace period to make changes to their financial disclosure forms. The senator's lawyers have asked that the case be dismissed.

* The House Finance & Tax Subcommittee considers a proposed sales tax rebate that would pay for football-friendly improvements to the stadium where the Miami Dolphins play. The bill (HB 165) is sponsored by Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah.

* Gov. Rick Scott hits the road for an event in Orlando at which he will promote an item in his proposed budget seeking to reduce the waiting list for people with developmental disabilities.

* The House Appropriations Ccommittee takes up proposed changes to public employees' pension plans in HB 7011, a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford.

* Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is the guest of the Capital Tiger Bay Club, meeting in Tallahassee.

- Steve Bousquet, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Rally backs bills to "End the R-word" in state law

Patricia Moody, 29, will tell you she’s fluent in sign language, she’s a violinist, singer, big fan of movies and by the way, she also has down syndrome.
She also wants you to know that “When someone makes fun of you, it’s something you remember for a very long time.”
That’s why Moody, of Vero Beach, was among scores of kids, adults and advocates  at a rally Thursday in the Capital rotunda as part of a campaign called “End the R-word” in Florida. For the third year, they’re also trying to change state law.

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