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10 posts from July 17, 2013

July 17, 2013

Zimmerman jurors ate at Outback Steakhouse, saw World War Z

What was it like to be a sequestered juror during the George Zimmerman trial?

The Seminole County Sheriff's Office, which was responsible for the sequestration, offered the following description in a news release Wednesday:

The jury was originally sequestered on Friday, June 21 and spent 22 nights at the Marriott on International Parkway in Lake Mary, Fla.

During the sequestration, jurors had individual rooms and convened regularly in a suite for meals and to socialize. Jurors watched television and movies, exercised at the hotel fitness center, and spent weekends being visited by family and friends. Jurors could also request visits from members of the religious community. Anyone visiting members of the jury was asked to sign an agreement indicating they would not discuss the case with the jury member or disclose any information to outside parties about the details of their visit.

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Former Miami-Dade schools chief under scrutiny. Again.

CrewControversy seems to follow former Miami-Dade Superintendent Rudy Crew.

Earlier this month, Crew left his job as Oregon's chief education officer to become the president of Medgar Evers College in New York.

But he didn't go quietly.

On Tuesday, The Oregonian reported that Crew had "billed the state for thousands of dollars of personal travel expenses, took six weeks of paid vacation and tried to get the state to pay for perks such as first-class plane tickets."

The newspaper found that several of Crew's trips had no benefit to Oregon, including "a daylong visit to Santa Fe schools to honor a former colleague there (cost to taxpayers: $1,118) and a quick visit to Los Angeles to teach a four-hour course at the University of Southern California, his former employer (for which taxpayers paid $552)".

Crew, who was making $280,000 a year, did not return calls from The Oregonian, according to the report.

Crew served as Miami-Dade's superintendent from 2004 until 2008. During that time, he was credited with creating the district's Parent Academy, and improving performance at several struggling inner-city schools through his School Improvement Zone initiative.

But Crew had a tempestuous relationship with the Miami-Dade School Board and faced questions about his handling of the district's then $5.5 billion budget. The board ultimately voted to buy out his contract for $368,000.

In his former job as New York City schools chief, Crew famously clashed with then Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Read the story in The Oregonian here.

Mixture of old and new on Pam Bondi's re-election team

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is sticking with some familiar names as she launches her 2014 re-election campaign, but she's got some new blood as well.

Her campaign manager will be Pablo Diaz, a veteran Republican operative who most recently served as the legislative director for the conservative group National Federation of Independent Business/Florida. He replaces Martin Garcia, a Tampa attorney.

Bondi is keeping Adam Goodman as her media consultant and Brett Doster as a general consultant, both holdovers from the 2010 campaign.

Debbie Aleksander is the new finance director, a job held last time by Melissa Dempsey. Marc Reichelderfer will serve as strategic consultant, a new position on the campaign.

For reference, click here for a complete breakdown of Bondi's 2010 campaign team.

 Here is the full press release about the '14 crew:

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Governor suspends second official in not-so-quiet Liberty County

The first time Gov. Rick Scott suspended a high-ranking official in little Liberty County, it was the local sheriff and it started a ruckus over the Second Amendment.

On Wednesday, Scott was forced to wade into small-town politics a second time. He suspended Gloria Uzzell, the county's elected superintendent of schools, after she was charged with grand theft, official misconduct and violating the public records law for allegedly using a School Board VISA card for personal use and blacking out totals on credit card statements -- public records that comprise key evidence in the case.

Uzzell, 51, a Democrat, took office last November as head of the school system in the small, rural county west of Tallahassee. According to a state attorney affidavit released by Scott's office, she obtained the card and a $10,000 credit limit from Cadence Bank in Bristol without School Board approval and used it to pay for clothing, meals, drinks and hotel stays, some in Tallahassee in March and April, running up a $12,000 balance.

The affidavit quotes Uzzell as justifying one spending spree by saying she was traveling on School Board business, but those purchases occurred on New Year's Day when schools were closed. The affidavit says she went back to stores and hotels and made payments reimbursing the VISA account after she was confronted by the School Board chairman, Kyle Peddie.

Uzzell is a mother of three children and a former Teacher of the Year in Bay County. Her father, Jerry Johnson, was elected three times as Liberty County's superintendent, according to her biography on the school district's website.

In June, Scott suspended Liberty County Sheriff Nick Finch after FDLE agents charged him with destroying documents in a case involving a man accused of carrying a concealed weapon. Supporters of Finch have emailed the governor protesting the suspension, describing Finch as a strong supporter of gun owners' rights and threatening to work against Scott's 2014 re-election bid. 

-- Steve Bousquet

Gaetz, Weatherford: Withdraw from PARCC, create "Florida Plan" for new tests

Florida's two top lawmakers have serious reservations about the assessments being created to test the new Common Core Standards.

The concerns are so grave that Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford want Florida to back out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the national consortium crafting the exams.

Among their gripes: The PARCC assessments will require 20 days of testing for elementary, middle and high school students. That's more time than it takes for students to complete the current state exams.

Gaetz and Weatherford want Florida to design its own testing program, they wrote to state Education Commissioner Tony Bennett Wednesday.

Bennett said he'll give the idea some consideration.

"I want to thank President Gaetz and Speaker Weatherford for sharing their concerns about PARCC and PARCC assessments," the education commissioner wrote in a statement. "They are valued partners in our mission to help students and they raise critical issues that deserve serious consideration as I make a decision in the coming days. I want to thank them and all lawmakers as we implement Common Core State Standards and improve the future for Florida’s students and our state."

Read the letter from Gaetz and Weatherford below.

Download 7 17 13 Commissioner Bennett FL Plan

On a favorite Rick Scott network, Florida doesn't stack up very well

One of Gov. Rick Scott's favorite national media outlets is CNBC, the all-business channel where Scott gets to effusively talk up his state, as he did in May when Hertz revealed plans to move its corporate headquarters from New Jersey. to Lee County.

Scott is also a very big fan of Squawk Box, CNBC's morning show, whether it's as a market-savvy viewer or in-studio guest. But as it turns out, CNBC seems a lot more impressed with the governor than with Florida's ability to market itself to companies building jobs.

The network recently released its annual state-by-state rankings of America's Top States for Business, with input from leading business voices such as the National Association of Manufacturers. You have to scroll all the way down to No. 30 to find the Sunshine State, behind such high-tax, high-regulation rust-belt stalwarts as Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio. When you're 30th out of 50 in anything, you're looking pretty mediocre.

CNBC's rankings, like others, is subjective, and the network used 10 separate criteria to measure states' competitiveness. Florida ranks highest in availability of workers (No. 4 nationally) and in technology and innovation (No. 11). The state ranked low in the category of -- ready, Rick? -- the economy, at No. 38, and not much better, 35th, in the category of business friendliness. In the category of quality of life, Florida ranked 28th in CNBC's survey, behind even gritty New Jersey at No. 23.

CNBC said it weighted its 10 categories "based on how frequently they are cited in state economic development marketing materials. That way, our study ranks the states based on the criteria they use to sell themselves." In CNBC's view, the No. 1 overall state for business friendliness is South Dakota, and (more bad news for Scott) it's followed closely by his arch-rival, Texas.

-- Steve Bousquet

Dolphin CEO Mike Dee leaves fins to 'return to my roots' with San Diego Padres

Miami Dolphins CEO Mike Dee is leaving the franchise to take a similar role with the San Diego Padres, Dee and the teams announced Wednesday.

Dee, who has headed up the Dolphins’ business operations since 2009, worked with the Padres from 1995 through 2002. He will replace Tom Garfinkle, who resigned last week.

“I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to San Diego as President & CEO of the Padres,” Dee wrote on a Twitter message. “It’s not easy to make this move at such an exciting time for the franchise, but I could not turn down this incredible opportunity to return my roots.

“Despite my new role, I will always be a member of Dolfan Nation,” Dee said. “A big thank you to [Dolphins owner] Steve Ross + So. Fla. for four great years.” More here.

-- Adam Beasley

Sit-in demonstration in Gov. Scott's office enters second day

The sit-in demonstration in Gov. Rick Scott's office has reached its second day.

More than two dozen student activists, many part of an organization known as the Dream Defenders, spent the night in the building. They plan to stay until Scott calls a special session to re-assess the state's controversial Stand Your Ground law, Dream Defenders Director Phillip Agnew said.

The protest comes in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal late Saturday in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

“With us staying, it shows our dedication, our resilience and how passionate we are about the Travyon Martin case,” said Sherika Shaw, a 25-year-old teacher from North Lauderdale who recently completed her graduate studies at Florida State.

The group had hoped to meet with the governor Tuesday, but Scott was in New York.

The governor is scheduled to spend most of Wednesday in the Panhandle. It was not clear when he would return to Tallahassee, or if he planned to meet with the protesters.

“It’s not in his plan,” Agnew said. “But it wasn’t in Trayvon Martin’s plan to be murdered on his way home. Sometimes, we have to be flexible.”

The protesters had pizza for dinner Tuesday and slept on the linoleum flooring outside Scott’s office.

The following morning, they were joined by eight young adults from the Power U Center for Social Change in Miami. Rep. Alan Williams also stopped by, and let the group know he had been in touch with the Florida Caucus of Black State Legislators.

“We want [the students] to know that we are willing and ready to help them turn their ideas and thoughts into legislative proposals,” said Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat.

Williams added: “I don’t know why the governor hasn’t met with them. These citizens should be just as important as the CEOs of major companies he is trying to recruit to this state.”

Whether Scott will respond to the group's demands remains to be seen.

Past sit-in demonstrations have yielded results.

In 2006, a group of 30 college students (some of whom are involved in the current protest in the Capitol) staged a 33-hour sit-in responding to the beating death of Martin Lee Anderson at a Florida boot camp. The demonstration drew national attention, and helped prompt reform.

There was also a sit-in demonstration in 2000 after then Gov. Jeb Bush refused to rescind an executive order ending racial and gender preferences in university admissions. Kendrick Meek, then a state senator, and Tony Hill, then a state representative, occupied the lieutenant governor’s office for 20 hours. Their action was followed by one of the largest protests in state history.

CREW: Rick Scott is one of America's worst governors, a "scrooge."

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, known as CREW, has branded Rick Scott as one of America's 18 worst governors.

The list, which people can vote on, is largely Republican (New York's Andrew Cuomo is one of the only two Democrats). CREW's report both echoes many Democratic complaints and doesn't give Scott credit for, say, reversing an election law he signed.

You be the judge of CREW's findings:

Gov. Scott is giving Scrooge a run for his money — disenfranchising Florida voters while passing legislation benefiting the financial interests of himself and his donors.

Shortly after his election in 2010, Gov. Scott began a campaign to purge ineligible voters from voter rolls that was found to disproportionately target minority, Democratic, and independent voters. Less than two months before the 2012 election, Gov. Scott again sought to purge voter lists. In 2011, Gov. Scott signed a proposal to curtail early voting, a move largely blamed for hours-long waits at the polls. Gov. Scott and the legislature reversed these changes after the election.

Gov. Scott proposed legislation affecting welfare and Medicaid recipients that would substantially benefit Solantic, Inc., a chain of urgent-care and emergency service clinics he co-founded before assuming office. Gov. Scott also pushed to privatize Florida’s prisons, which would primarily benefit two private prison companies that donated thousands of dollars to his inauguration committee and PAC.

  • Elected in 2010; running for reelection in 2014
  • Proposed initiatives affecting welfare and Medicaid recipients that would financially benefit Solantic, Inc., a company he co-founded
  • Led a campaign to purge voter rolls in Florida that disproportionately targeted minority, Democratic, and independent voters

The state GOP response: “From day one, with an executive order, Governor Scott has been focused on ending corruption and strengthening ethics rules and regulations in Florida government. During his entire tenure as Governor he has worked with the Legislature to pass and sign open government, transparency, ethics, and campaign finance laws that have been praised by independent organizations dedicated to these issues.”

The shocking racial Stand Your Ground-related case in Port St. Joe


As Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law goes on trial in the court of public opinion, more lethal force cases – especially those involving race -- are again making national headlines.

There’s the case of Marissa Alexander, sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her husband. And there’s the case of Michael Dunn, accused of first-degree murder in the July 30, 2012 shooting death of an unarmed teenager. Mother Jones branded it the "Next Trayvon Martin Case."

Here’s a shocking case has been barely mentioned: The killing of a 32-year-old black man named Everett Gant by 60-year-old Walter Butler in Port St. Joe, an old Florida Panhandle town.

Butler, who allegedly used the n-word to describe both the victim and a child in the neighborhood, is seeking immunity from prosecution under Stand Your Ground. He has a court hearing in September.

The prosecutor, Bob Sombathy, said Butler does not have much to stand on. He said Butler, charged with second-degree murder, "laid in wait" with a .22 rifle for Gant, who was coming over with a friend to discuss Butler's racist comments to a kid in the neighborhood.

"Someone opened the door and Butler shot him in the eye," Sombathy said. "There were no real words exchanged, no threats."

Continue reading "The shocking racial Stand Your Ground-related case in Port St. Joe" »