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10 posts from August 12, 2013

August 12, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New chairman for Citizens Board of Governors

Chris Gardner, a veteran of the retail insurance brokerage business, has been named chairman of the Board of Governors for Citizens Property Insurance Corp.by Florida CFO Jeff Atwater.

Gardner, a resident of Winter Park, has 20 years of experience in the retail insurance brokerage business with a specific focus in commercial property and casualty insurance. He has served as a member of the Citizens board since his appointment in July 2011.

“In his 20 years in the insurance industry, Chris has proved himself to be a person of high character and sound judgment who shares my high expectations for how a corporation such as Citizens should be managed,” Atwater said in a news release.

Gardner is the managing shareholder of Kuykendall Gardner, LLC, a Florida-based insurance broker doing business since 1953. Neither the firm collectively nor Gardner personally has any current business interests in Citizens, according to the release. He has been a past chairman of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and is a past vice chairman of the City of Orlando Municipal Planning Board.

Gardner succeeds Carlos Lacasa as chairman of the Citizen’s board.

Another change: Sen. President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has appointed Freddie Schinz to the Citizens Board of Governors.

Schinz has more than 40 years of experience as a statewide commercial builder. He replaces Carol Everhart.

Gaetz picks

Gaetz has appointed Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) to the Southern States Energy Board, Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz) to the Education Commission of the States, Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) to the Workforce Florida, Inc., Board of Directors, and Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) to the Florida High School Athletic Association Public Liaison Advisory Committee.

Flores, 36, is an attorney and CEO of Doral College. Legg, 38, is a long-time Pasco County educator and the Senate Education Committee Chair. Montford, 65, is the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Stargel, 47, is an investment property manager in Lakeland.

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As Gunter guns for office with help of Pasco Sheriff posse, Weatherford mulls residency requirement

Bill Gunter touted his ties to the Pasco County Sheriff’s office on Monday in his bid to replace Mike Fasano in the State House District 36, which covers western New Port Richey.

He was endorsed Monday by Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco. Gunter, a presbyterian minister, happens to work at the sheriff’s office as a chaplain. Gunter’s main sponsor for office, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, also works there. Slated to become House Speaker in 2016, Corcoran is the outside counsel for the sheriff’s office, representing the office in employment and union matters.

Also in Gunter’s corner is Jeremiah Hawkes, the son of Taj Mahal judge Paul Hawkes (and, like Jeremiah, a Corcoran confidante) who also works for Nocco as the in-house counsel for the sheriff’s office. As if to leave no doubts where the Pasco Sheriff’s office stands on the issue of Gunter’s candidacy, Hawkes retweeted Nocco’s endorsement on Monday.

But don’t start icing the champagne for Gunter just yet. The primary election isn’t until Sept. 17 and at least one other Republican, Jim Mathieu, the county GOP chairman and former New Port Richey city attorney, says he’s running. The general election is Oct. 15 if the Democrats bother to field a candidate.

Then there’s the matter of where Gunter actually lives. Florida law requires that representatives live in the district they represent, but Gunter now lives about five miles away in District 37, Corcoran’s district. Gunter, 43, says he intends to move to a rental by Election Day, but he told the Times/Herald last week that he would move back to the house he’s lived in since 2003 if he were to lose in 2014. (Unlike Gunter, Mathieu actually lives in District 36).


Continue reading "As Gunter guns for office with help of Pasco Sheriff posse, Weatherford mulls residency requirement" »

Pro-Obamacare group plans push back, staffs up in Florida


Enroll America, the group helping to educate people about the new health care law, now has 27 staffers on the ground in Florida, illustrating how important the state is to the overall viability of Obamacare.

Nick Duran, Florida state director, said in a conference call this morning that volunteers have begun making connections with nonprofit health care groups to spread the word. Volunteers have started going door-to-door and plan a blitz at back to school events and on college campuses.

One man went on a Haitian radio show in Miami to discuss the law and got more than 20 phone calls from people wanting to know more, Duran said.

It's a campaign style outreach, though Enroll America is not an arm of Obama's Organizing for Action, which is doing similar work. They are pushing to inform people as the health care marketplaces under the law begin taking enrollments Oct. 1.

The effort comes as critics of the law are engaged in a counter campaign. Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, is traveling the state this weekcriticizing the law's effect on businesses.

"Over the next 50 days we're going to continue to focus on building momentum," Duran said.

Florida, which has the nation's third highest rate of uninsured, is one of 10 states Enroll America is focusing on. The others are: Texas, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Illinois, Georgia, Arizona and Ohio.

-- Alex Leary

Florida Legislature to vote on holding SYG special session

Late Monday, Florida’s Secretary of State’s office announced that it had received five more letters from Democratic lawmakers Monday, giving them one over the necessary 32 letters they need to trigger a poll of the Legislature on whether a special session should be held on making changes to the “stand your ground” law.

Those requesting the special session, all Democrats, are:

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee; Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens; Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana; Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando; Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale; Rep.Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach; Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach; Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando; Rep. Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes; Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa; Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie; Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville; Rep. Sharon Pritchett, D-Miami Gardens; Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach; Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa; Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg; Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park; Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami; Rep. James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek; Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation; Sen.  Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens; Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Alachua; Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville; Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach; Rep. Irving Slosberg, D-Boca Raton; Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, R-Miami.

On Monday, letters were received from: Rep. Bobby Powell, Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando; Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, and Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach.

Letters from the remaining 25 Democrats in the Legislature have not been received. No letters signed by Republicans were received either.

Lawmakers have seven days to fill out forms by selecting either “yes” or “no” on whether to convene a special session. A non-vote is considered a "no" vote. An affirmative vote is needed from three-fifths of members of both the House and Senate to trigger a special session, which is about 96 lawmakers. Getting that many is considered even by Democrats to be a longshot.

Even so, Thurston, the House's Democratic leader, hailed Monday’s milestone.

“I commend those members who have joined me in my request for a special session,” Thurston said in a statement. “While the House Speaker has indicated that the Legislature may hold a hearing later this year on certain policies, including Stand Your Ground, I strongly believe that a special session is the best way to justly address the concerns of our constituents. As the Secretary of State begins the polling of the Legislature, I urge my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike, to answer in the affirmative to the request.”

A leader of the Dream Defenders, which has been conducting a sit-in at the Capitol since last month in protest of stand your ground, among other things, struck an optimistic note as the movement entered a new phase. The group helped convince House Speaker Will Weatherford to order a hearing on the law this fall.

“Our experiment in democracy is growing every day,” said Dream Defenders executive director Phillip Agnew. “Not only have we made history by triggering a poll of the entire legislature, and not only are we closer to getting a special session – but this process has also allowed many young people, from all across the state of Florida, to engage with their legislators in a way that they never have before. We thank the 32 members from the House and Senate who championed this effort, and we will continue petitioning our lawmakers in the coming days and weeks to gain still more legislative support.”

Did Florida legislators overlook a loophole when rejecting Medicaid expansion?

Florida Health Watch the Kaiser Health News reports on little known loophole in the federal Medicaid law that could provide the answer to thousands of low-income, uninsured Floridians denied health insurance because Florida lawmakers refused to expand Medicaid: miscalculate your income in 2014.

Here's the report on how the loophole works by Kaiser Health News. For more coverage of Florida's health care debate, see Florida Health Watch, a partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Miami Herald here. 

Feds declare fisheries disaster for struggling Apalachicola Bay

1rmHUZ.Em.56The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday that the drought conditions in Apalachicola Bay for the last year have resulted in a fishery disaster for Florida’s oystermen, allowing them to obtain relief funds.

The announcement comes a day before U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio are scheduled to attend a Senate Commerce Committee field hearing in Apalachicola on Tuesday to gather testimony on the economic impact of the water conditions on the oyster industry. 

“We understand the economic significance this historic oyster fishery has for fishermen and related businesses in the panhandle of Florida,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker in a statement. “Because the drought caused such a decline in oyster landings and a rather significant drop in revenue, the fishery qualified as a resource disaster under the nation’s fishing law.”

In the last year, the oyster industry has lost 44 percent of its revenues as the oyster population in the Gulf of Mexico has declined an estimated 60 percent.

“It takes three years for oysters to reach marketable size, so we are concerned about this depleted oyster resource that has traditionally supported a viable fishery,” said Sam Rauch, acting assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries in a statement. “We will continue to work with Congress, the state and oyster fishermen through this challenging time.”

Nelson asked the federal government to declare the fisheries disaster a year ago and it was followed by a joint letter last year from Nelson, Rubio and North Florida congressmen in September 2012. Gov. Rick Scott made a similar request that month.  Download 09-12-12 Letter to Sec Blank re Oyster Disaster Declaration (1) 

Miami Herald photo by Patrick Farrell


Education scandals cast cloud over Jeb Bush’s presidential prospects


Nobody felt the sting of former state Education Commissioner Tony Bennett’s resignation quite like Jeb Bush.

Bush played a key role in recruiting Bennett from Indiana and was among his most ardent supporters — even after Bennett became entangled in an alleged grade-fixing flap.

When Bennett stepped down on Aug. 1, it was the latest in a string of setbacks for Bush, who has spent the last five years pushing an ambitious education reform agenda across the country. Earlier this summer, Bush’s signature model of grading schools on an A-to-F scale came under attack in Florida. Then came a crushing wave of criticism from tea party groups, which oppose the new national standards Bush is promoting.

The political fallout could be significant. Many observers believe Bush is using his role as national education reformer to position himself for a run at the presidency in 2016. That hinges partly on success in Florida, where Bush created his template for school reform.

Bush, who has ducked questions about his presidential ambitions, did not return an email seeking comment.

When asked what Bennett’s resignation would mean for Bush, Bush spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof said: “The question should be what will the resignation mean for students. Improving student achievement is at the heart of Gov. Bush’s passion for reform and has been for the 20 years he has devoted to this cause.”

Read more here. 

“Paranoid” Pizzi and Manny “Macho” Maroño star in Miami-Dade's telenovela of sleaze


Mike “Paranoid” Pizzi and Manny “Macho” Maroño star in Miami-Dade’s newest crime drama.

But Pizzi and Maroño aren’t actors; they’re the mayors of Miami Lakes and Sweetwater who were busted last week in a federal grant-fraud scheme with two lobbyists.

It was all an FBI production, a sting, a reminder that sometimes low, mean suspicions about politics here might be well-founded.

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Miami-Dade, Broward low-income schools struggle under Florida grading system

@MrMikeVasquez @NewsbySmiley

With dozens of changes in just the past three years, the formula behind Florida’s A-to-F school grading system has been criticized as a confusing mess. But there’s been at least one constant in Miami-Dade and Broward results: The wealthiest schools never get Fs, and schools with high populations of poor students face an uphill battle to even get a C.

The trend is visible through a decade-plus ofschool grade results, dating back to the first grades issued in 1999.

A Miami Herald analysis of this year’s elementary and middle school grades (high school grades aren’t available yet) shows:

•  Although high poverty rates don’t necessarily doom a school to a subpar grade, D and F schools are overwhelmingly serving students from poor neighborhoods, and the few schools that do overcome poverty to achieve an A are outliers. (There were nine such schools this year, all in Miami-Dade).

•  Of the 209 schools in Miami-Dade and Broward with at least 90 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch, 78 percent received a grade of C or worse. Roughly 39 percent of these high-poverty schools received a D or F.

•  Of the 43 local schools with much lower poverty rates (30 percent or fewer students receiving free or reduced lunch), 86 percent received an A, and none received a D or F.

As the school reform movement that created letter grades faces a growing backlash from parents and teachers — and U.S. child poverty rates continue to rise — the income-driven distribution of the grades has prompted an uncomfortable question: Are grades measuring how well a school teaches kids, or are they simply a reflection of how much money the parents of students have?

More here.

As mayor of one town and attorney of another, Michael Pizzi carried out feds' bogus scheme


In Miami Lakes, Michael Pizzi held sway as mayor of the manicured town.

In Medley, he delivered legal advice as town attorney.

But in both municipalities, Pizzi used his public office to steer business to a company he thought would pay him kickbacks, according to the FBI.

Pizzi was arrested Tuesday on bribery charges stemming from an undercover investigation into public corruption. Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño and two lobbyists also were arrested.

If what the feds say is true, Pizzi’s unique position in two different governments is what helped him carry out a scheme to fleece federal grant money.

And yet, Pizzi was not prohibited from holding both offices, according to the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. In fact, Miami Lakes Councilman Tony Lama said it was never made an issue there.

“That has not come up on the dais with any of my colleagues,” Lama said.

The Miami Lakes mayorship is supposed to be a part-time job, paying $18,000 a year plus a $600 monthly car allowance. As attorney for Medley, he received $192,000.

More here.