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10 posts from July 2, 2013

July 02, 2013

Racing lobbyist John Culbreath honored by friends

John CulbreathFriends gathered in the North Florida town of Monticello Monday afternoon to honor the life of John Culbreath, a former state House member who went on to a long career as a lobbyist for the thoroughbred racing industry in Tallahassee.

Culbreath, a native of Brooksville and son of former Hillsborough County Sheriff H.L. Culbreath, died June 25, two days before his 87th birthday.

A Democrat, Culbreath served in the House from 1967 to 1979 and chaired the House committee that oversaw the pari-mutuel racing industry. After he left the Legislature, he found prominence as the lobbyist for Gulfstream Park, a thoroughbred track in Hallandale Beach, and is credited with bringing the prestigious Breeder's Cup race there in the mid-80s. Culbreath, who also lobbied for the Florida Chiropractic Association, retired from lobbying a few years ago and lived quietly in Monticello, a picturesque town 30 miles east of Tallahassee.

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Lawsuit challenges broad scope of Internet café ban

An Internet café operator from Homestead, whose clientele are primarily migrant workers seeking computer time, is suing the state challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s ban on illegal slot machines.

The lawsuit filed in Miami Dade Circuit Court on behalf of Incredible Investments, LLC, owned by Consuelo Zapata, alleges that the Legislature effectively applied the ban to all computers when it defined illegal slot machines as any “system or network of devices” that may be used in a game of chance. The state effectively made every smart phone and computer an illegal device, the plaintiff argues.  Download Internet Cafe COMPLAINT

“They rushed to judgment and they took what they saw as a very specific problem and essentially criminalized everything,” said Justin Kaplan of the Miami law firm of Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine which is representing Zapata.

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Scott vetoes three bills, criticizes special districts' power grab

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed three bills today, criticizing special taxing districts that are supposed to govern drainage and water control issues for asking the Legislature to grant them more power.

Scott wrote three different letters to explain the vetos, but they all have this sentence in common: "Expanding the scope of authority of a water control district is not the most appropriate means for residents to receive the desired services and there are other avenues to which residents of the District may pursue."

These three measures are among 24 local bills that were approved by the Legislature, with most earning Scott's approval. Here is a break down of the three vetoes:

-House Bill 855, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Rooney, R-West Palm Beach. The bill allows the South Indian River Water Control District in Palm Beach County to construct recreational facilities on property it owns. Scott's letter says the special district would be providing services that residents already receive from other government agencies, creating duplication and increasing costs for residents.

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Miami-Dade mayor meets Pope Francis

@PatriciaMazzei

County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, on a personal trip with his wife, Lourdes, met Pope Francis at the Vatican last week and informally invited the pontiff to visit Miami-Dade.

"He said the politically correct answer: He'll consider it," Gimenez said. He invited the pope to travel to South Florida in 2015.

The mayor traveled to Italy on vacation -- after county business trips to Spain and France -- to celebrate his wife's birthday, which fell on the same day the couple attended Francis' homily during last Wednesday's Mass. Gimenez and his wife attend local services at the Church of the Little Flower in Coral Gables.

After the service, Francis greeted audience members who had obtained tickets to stand in the first row, Gimenez said. That's where the mayor and his wife waited, along with their friends, lawyer and lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez and his wife, Marile.

Speaking in Spanish, the Argentinian Francis wished Lourdes Gimenez a happy birthday, Carlos Gimenez said, and he also cracked a joke when the Gimenezes noted they had recently celebrated 38 years of marriage.

"Nice guy," the mayor concluded.

Court agrees to hear appeal of ruling shielding legislators from redistricting testimony

In what promises to be a precedent-setting ruling over whether legislators can be shielded from testifying in a redistricting case, the Florida Supreme Court has agreed to hear a redistricting challenge brought by the League of Women Voters.

The League is asking the court to review an appellate court decision issued in May that allows legislators to be shielded from turning over documents and being questioned under oath by lawyers in a redistricting challenge.

On a 4-1 vote, with Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justice James E. C. Perry not voting, the court set oral arguments for Sept. 16. Justices Barbara Pariente, Perry Quince, R. Fred Lewis and Jorge Labarga agreed to hold the hearings. Justice Charles Canady dissented.

Lawyers for the House and Senate successfully argued before the First District Court of Appeals that legislators and their staff enjoy blanket immunity from being forced to turn over their work papers or testify regarding redistricting. 

A quiet Fourth for 'Grandpa' Scott, then some politicking

Gov. Rick Scott headed to his hometown of Naples for some down time Tuesday. Aides said Scott planned no public events for the rest of the week, making this a particularly quiet time for a chief executive who usually keeps a hectic work schedule.

But Scott has other things on his mind at the moment. Both of his daughters, Allison and Jordan, are pregnant, and both are scheduled to give birth in August.

Both also are expecting boys, which will give "Grandpa" three grandsons along with Auguste, born last year.

After a quiet Fourth, Scott plans to hit the road Sunday. He'll head to Pensacola as featured speaker at the annual Escambia County Lincoln Day Dinner celebration at the Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grand Hotel. Tickets are $55 each, and local GOP chairwoman Susan Moore is hoping for a sellout.

Have things improved for Scott? Pensacola would be a pretty good place to answer that question. Two years ago, when he spoke at the same event, Scott was greeted by catcalls from dozens of local teachers who were protesting his policies. One carried a sign reading "F(D)CAT," for "Florida doesn't care about teachers." That was before Scott championed a $2,500 teacher pay raise.

-- Steve Bousquet

Miami Heat brings Alonzo Mourning to county commission to push for extension of arena lease

@PatriciaMazzei

Trophy 12 One PABFormer Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning turned heads Tuesday when we walked into the Miami-Dade commission chambers, carrying the NBA's Larry O'Brien championship trophy.

Giddy commissioners applauded. Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin jumped up and gestured to the audience to join in a standing ovation. The crowd complied.

But the real reason for Mourning's visit wasn't to gloat about the Heat's victory. It was a thinly veiled push to publicly urge the county to extend the basketball team's lease at AmericanAirlines Arena.

"We look forward to 25 more celebratory years of success," Mourning said.

He didn't mention the lease. Instead, he played a video that touted the team's history in downtown Miami.

Miami-Dade provides a $6.4 million annual subsidy to the arena under the current deal, which runs through 2029. The payments were in exchange for the Heat building and financing the $360 million facility on county land. The agreement includes a profit-sharing formula that has yet to result in a dime for the county.

The Heat, capitalizing on the team's back-to-back championships, wants to extend the deal another 15 years -- and to receive more public money, citing renovations for the 13-year-old arena.

County administrators had said they were in no rush to renegotiate the deal. But commissioners on Tuesday encouraged Mayor Carlos Gimenez's administration to move quickly.

"We're committed to keeping the Heat here in the long term," Gimenez said. "Hopefully we can bring that to some kind of fruition."

Trophy 02 Three PAB
Photos by Peter Andrew Bosch, Miami Herald staff.

Homestead mayor under investigation over secret consulting deal

Patricia Borns & @jayhweaver

At $6,000 a year, the salary for being the mayor of Homestead is a pittance. But Steve Bateman, a barrel-chested booster of this gateway city to the Florida Keys, has found that the position comes with hidden perks.

This past February, Bateman leveraged his role as mayor to land a lucrative, secret side job working as a construction consultant for a nonprofit that needs the blessing of the city and county to expand its chain of health clinics.

The deal, which the head of the nonprofit, Community Health of South Florida Inc. (CHI), says he did not initiate, pays Bateman $125 an hour — more than $4,500 during one 38-hour work week, according to a sampling of invoices reviewed by the Miami Herald. Bills for other weeks were unavailable for review.

Bateman, who has a county license to install awnings, shutters and screen enclosures but is not a general contractor or registered lobbyist, has not publicly disclosed the lucrative arrangement to his colleagues on the City Council, which holds sway over CHI’s plans. Nor did Bateman inform the county of his employment with the nonprofit, even when he met with Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his top aides to personally plead for Miami-Dade to fast-track a multi-million-dollar Homestead sewer system expansion that would facilitate construction of a proposed CHI children’s clinic in downtown Homestead.

The city’s interest in expanding its downtown pumping station is not surprising. The $3 million sewer project could spur development in a downtown that has withered since Hurricane Andrew nearly leveled the city in 1992. The station would benefit five projects that are currently on the drawing board but can’t proceed without added sewer capacity. The mayor or his wife has a financial stake in three of the five, none of which he has disclosed.

More here.

A Hialeah political tale: How a chopped up electrical pole ended up inside a car

@kikeflor @msanchezMIA

Car photoIn Hialeah, every political blow is always followed by a similar one or an even harder one.

The day after El Nuevo Herald ran a story about Juan Santana, a candidate for Hialeah city mayor who filmed the verbal attack against him from a former police officer close to Hialeah mayor Carlos Hernández, authorities revealed that his wife was arrested nearly two years ago for stealing a public electrical post that was cut in half so that it could be transported in a car.

Santana’s wife, Jessica Montanez, 27, was arrested together with Jonathan Román, 25, the night of Aug. 16, 2011, after placing half of an aluminum post in the trunk of a Nissan Sentra and the other half through the sliding roof of the small car.

“Stealing metal and scrap metal is a national epidemic. However, we had never seen a case as daring as this one,” said Carl Zogby, a spokesman for Hialeah’s Police Department. “We had never seen anyone loading a post cut to pieces in a passenger car. “How could they think that no one would notice?”

The incident came to light in the wake of a political controversy in Hialeah after revealing the videotaped by Santana in which former police officer Glenn Rice mocks the candidacy of Santana, a disabled 30-year-old who weighs nearly 500 pounds.

More here.
Photo courtesy of the Hialeah Police Department.

Gaming report: expanding gambling could make Florida 'less attractive' tourist destination

Florida has one of the most competitive gambling markets in the nation with a parimutuel industry that "resembles a circular firing squad," a regulatory environment that is a "mess," and any expansion of gambling -- such as destination resorts -- will result in more expansion because "the industry rarely shrinks."

Those are the candid first conclusions of the report released late Monday to the Florida Legislature by the Spectrum Gaming Group as lawmakers attempt to embark on an ambitious plan of rewriting the state’s gambling laws and deciding how much expansion to allow.

What may be the starkest conclusion of all: Florida may want to stay away from casinos or it will harm the state and Orlando’s tourist brand.  Download FL_Gambling_Impact_Study_Part1A

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