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8 posts from June 25, 2013

June 25, 2013

SCOTUS ruling helps landowners, raises costs for wetlands protection


The U.S. Supreme Court gave the family of a Central Florida landowner – as well as property owners and developers across the state and country – a significant victory on Tuesday with a ruling that stands to make it tougher and more expensive for government agencies to protect the nation’s dwindling wetlands.

In a 5 to 4 decision, the court found that the St. Johns River Water Management District had imposed excessive demands on Coy Koontz Sr., who was denied a permit to build on a 15-acre plot outside of Orlando unless he offset or “mitigated” for paving over wetlands by restoring wetlands owned by the district several miles away.

Koontz died several years ago but his son, Coy Koontz Jr., said the family was ecstatic at winning a land-use legal battle dating back nearly two decades and giving other landowners “a bigger stick” to fight similar cases in the future.

“As my wife said, it certainly vindicates my father’s decision to take this fight on,” Koontz said during a media conference call organized by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a private property rights advocacy group that represented the family in the case. More here.

-- Curtis Morgan

Investigation into former Citizens employees raises questions about ethics lapses

Two former Citizens Property executives, who left the state-run insurance company for violating conflict of interest rules, were developing an online software company with their supervisor and receiving hefty pay raises, documents show.

Edward B. Baldwin and Christopher H. Dunn, both high-level executives at Citizens, resigned under fire on May 17 after an internal audit found they formed Silvershore Partners last November with their then-boss, Eric J. Ordway, and used Citizens computers to access a web site for the company during work hours.

Ordway, 48, left the company in December after starting ProfileGorilla, an online software company that specializes in helping businesses track sales, payroll, contracts and other management issues. An investigation into whether or not Ordway and partners used proprietary data from Citizens for private gain is still underway, Citizens auditors told a meeting of the audit committee of the Board of Directors on Tuesday in Miami. Download Conflict investigation

“The forensic audit is focusing on computer software to see if Citizens data was downloaded and removed,’’ said Michael Peltier, a Citizens spokesman.

But the controversy also has raised questions about how much Yong Gilroy, Citizens chief insurance officer, knew about Ordway’s relationship with the employees he supervised. Gilroy has ties to each of the four officers at Silvershore Partners. More here.   


Correctional officer honored for heroism by Scott, Cabinet

A Florida correctional officer was honored Tuesday for heroism during a vicious attack by an inmate that cost another officer his life last year.

During a Cabinet meeting, Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members gave a Medal of Heroism award to Stanley Petersen, 61, an officer at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City. It was there on March 18 of last year that an inmate attacked and stabbed to death Officer Ruben Thomas, and severely injured another guard, William Brewer.

Corrections Secretary Mike Crews and other top prison officials were on hand to witness the award ceremony, as Petersen got a standing ovation.

"I'm very happy and proud to be part of the greatest family in Florida," Petersen said. Paraphrasing the agency's slogan, he said: "We do never walk alone."

Petersen, wearing the medal around his neck, said he decided to become a corrections officer about six years ago at the suggestion of a Lake City neighbor who was a probation officer. He earns slightly less than $31,000 a year.

The medal of heroism award was established by former Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature in 2003, Scott's office said.

-- Steve Bousquet

Pension bottom line looks better, posing challenge for critics

Gov. Rick Scott and the rest of the Florida Cabinet were given news Tuesday that poses a challenge for critics of public pensions.

As of Monday night, the pension had reached $137 billion, an 11 percent increase from last year, said Ash Williams, executive director of the State Board of Administration.

If you are a House Republican, this is one trend that undermines a pillar in the campaign to close the pension off to new employees. During this year’s session, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford tried unsuccessfully to pass HB 7011, which would have prevented new employees from enrolling in Florida’s pension system. The bill would have required new employees to enroll in private, 401(k)-style investment plans that don’t provide a guaranteed benefit.

Weatherford gave several rationales for this move, which was supported by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the free-market-loving James Madison Institute. Among them: pensions were, in essence, Ponzi schemes that will end up going bankrupt, perhaps bringing the rest of the state’s finances with it. Close them now, or pay later. Weatherford and the Chamber vowed they'd return next year with another bill.

But the quarterly report that Williams and his staff provided Tuesday shows a pension currently enjoying robust health.

Through March 31, the pension has actually grown by $5 billion since January. The fund had surpassed quarterly, annual and three, 10, 20, 25 and 30-year performance benchmarks. When compared to the 10 largest public and corporate pension funds, Florida’s fund beat the average.

“Economically, on the investment side, the only part we’re responsible for, we’re doing fine,” Williams told the Times/Herald afterward.

Continue reading "Pension bottom line looks better, posing challenge for critics" »

Scott not pressing FDLE for details on voter fraud cases

Gov. Rick Scott is showing zero interest in following up on the state’s efforts to investigate voter registration fraud.

When asked at a news conference Tuesday if he’s reviewed either of the two cases closed by the state’s Department of Law Enforcement into a vendor hired by the Republican Party of Florida, Scott had a one word reply: “No.”

As the Times/Herald reported last week, a Jacksonville case involving two former employees of the vendor, Strategic Allied Consulting, was closed in January (and released to the media in March) after the employees admitted to forging voter registration forms. Because both employees had clean criminal records, they only served probation. But FDLE investigators closed the investigation before they interviewed the supervisors of the two employees. One of the supervisors, Jeff Jewett, said he was surprised no one from the state contacted him, considering he was the one who blew the whistle.

Could FDLE investigators have found more fraudulent forms if they had bothered to interview Jewett and other employees in the offices? Possibly. Ray Robbins worked in Jewett’s office and estimated that 20 percent of the forms turned in were forged. Yet investigators didn’t interview Robbins either.

Continue reading "Scott not pressing FDLE for details on voter fraud cases" »

Court blocks application of Voting Rights Act in Florida, unless Congress updates rules

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act cannot be enforced unless Congress comes up with a new way of determining which states and localities require federal monitoring of elections.

The justices said in 5-4 vote that the law Congress most recently renewed in 2006 relies on 40-year-old data that does not reflect racial progress and changes in U.S. society.

The court did not strike down the advance approval requirement of the law that has been used, mainly in the South, to open up polling places to minority voters in the nearly half century since it was first enacted in 1965.

Continue reading "Court blocks application of Voting Rights Act in Florida, unless Congress updates rules" »

Tea party groups plan protest outside of Rubio's office saying he 'betrayed' them


This could be interesting. A group of pro-reform groups also plans a noon protest at Rubio's Tampa office.  News release:" Come join members of Mi Familia Vota, Florida, clergy members, allies, and MoveOn, as we participate in a vigil at Senator Rubio's office to ask that he see the error of his ways regarding increased militarization, accepting campaign funds from GEO, an arm of ICE, and also adding English proficiency before undocumented Americans may be legal permanent residents. That's way before they would be eligible for citizenship. We will pray for him to do the right thing."

Saying Sen. Marco Rubio has "broken promises" on immigration a group of tea party groups in Florida plan to protest outside his Tampa office tomorrow at noon.

"This bill will forever be known as the Rubio Amnesty bill. As a result, Patriot groups are withdrawing their support for Senator Rubio and demand that he walk away from this bill," read a statement from three local activists.  "As a result, Patriot groups are withdrawing their support for Senator Rubio and demand that he walk away from this bill."

The letter said Rubio pledged not to support legislation that is rushed through Congress and does not secure the borders or lead to more illegal immigration.

The current bill, current amendment and the rush to ram the bill through the Senate by week's end violate this letter and earlier public statements by the Senator. This bill will forever be known as the Rubio Amnesty bill.  As a result, Patriot groups are withdrawing their support for Senator Rubio and demand that he walk away from this bill.

 -- Alex Leary

Jackson Health System board seeks $830-million bond referendum for hospital upgrades


The board that runs Jackson Health System on Monday voted to ask Miami-Dade commissioners to call a special election in November asking voters to approve an $830 million bond to pay for renovations and equipment upgrades at the taxpayer-owned hospital system.

The request from the Public Health Trust that runs Jackson came as something of a surprise, since it was not on the agenda prior to the meeting, but was added at the last minute by Darryl Sharpton, the board’s newly appointed chairman.

Though the resolution approved by the board did not mention a specific dollar amount, Sharpton said the hospital system needs a cash infusion of between $700 million and $1 billion to improve facilities, which include the main hospital in Miami’s civic center and satellite hospitals in North Miami Beach and South Miami-Dade. A spokesman for Jackson said the amount requested would be $830 million.

“We’re at a crossroads,’’ Sharpton said at Monday’s meeting of the seven-member board. “We have to do something drastically different or risk being irrelevant.’’

More here.