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3 posts from October 18, 2013

October 18, 2013

Miami-Dade family: We were victims of absentee-ballot fraud in Homestead election

@PatriciaMazzei @msanchezMIA

Two men knocked on the door of Betty Brockington’s bright orchid-pink Homestead house Wednesday night, asking for her family’s four absentee ballots. They worked for political campaigns, they said, and could take care of mailing them.

Brockington named the candidates she, her husband and two nieces wanted to vote for in the Nov. 5 city mayor and council races. The two men sat in a pair of chairs on the porch, filled out the ballots out of the family’s sight and stuffed them in ballot envelopes.

Brockington and her husband, Willie Snead, both 54, and their younger niece, Taquesha Robinson, 19, signed the envelopes without reviewing the ballots.

But when it was the older niece’s turn, 22-year-old Robkevia Scott, who had been watching South Beach Tow on television while the men sat in the porch, refused to give the men her ballot.

She grabbed it back — and realized the two men had filled the bubbles for precisely the candidates the family did not support: mayoral candidate Mark Bell and council candidate Norman Hodge Jr.

“I didn’t want to vote for those people,” Scott said.

Scott contacted the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust, which has followed up with the family over the apparent absentee-ballot fraud. The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office has also been alerted. Both agencies declined to comment about any potential investigations.

More here.

Scott's DEO not disclosing all that has gone wrong with $63-million jobless benefits site

A memo obtained Friday by Naked Politics instructs state employees how to deal with problems afflicting the Florida’s new $63 million unemployment benefits website.

"The system should become more stable as we daily progress as changes/fixes are being moved into production on a regular basis. It is important that we do not convey the wrong message to the public, so please do not advise claimants that the system is down unless official word from management is received." (Bold added for emphasis).

Emailed Friday to Department of Economic Opportunity offices across the state, the memo raises obvious and troubling questions.

What is the “wrong” message? More importantly, what is the “right” message? And is this suggesting that the site has indeed been down, which officials have denied since CONNECT debuted on Tuesday? When asked late Friday for comment, DEO Spokeswoman Monica Russell repeated that the system has not been down.

“If you read that message, it clearly says that we are constantly instituting updates to the system as we are alerted to issues claimants may be encountering,” Russell said in an e-mail. “The system was never down, so it would have been a ‘wrong message’ to the public to say that it was.’”

On the face of it, however, the memo supports a strong impression made this week by DEO officials that Florida hasn’t been forthcoming in disclosing  the extent of problems with CONNECT and its vendor, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

All week, DEO officials have insisted that this investment in the new website, CONNECT, has been a success. They’ve released limited information that they say confirms the website is handling the demands of a system with 235,000 claimants. But they have yet to provide how many claimants have failed or been delayed in filing, or how many calls are being made to state help centers.

On Wednesday, Naked Politics asked DEO if Deloitte had been put on notice for non-performance. The response?

“In design, it was realized it was going to take longer meet (sic) the requirements and the project was extended 10 months as a result of a corrective action plan at no additional costs to the agency, but still within the projected four year time frame anticipated by the feasibility study,” said a DEO spokeswoman Jessica Sims.

Sims failed to disclose a June 15, 2012 letter from the DEO’s project manager, Tom McCullion, to John Hugill, principal of Deloitte Consulting LLP. The purpose of the letter is stated at the top: “Notice of Intent to Terminate.”

The letter stated that Deloitte’s "demonstrated inability to implement the solution in other jurisdictions has undermined the DEO's confidence that Deloitte will successfully complete the implementation in Florida...it now appears that the DEO is being asked to fund a software development project with limited prospects for success."

Also, the letter mentions that the "go-live" date of October 2013 is later than "the parties bargained for."

Asked about this letter, Sims replied in an e-mail:

"More than a year ago, Deloitte was not meeting the contractual deliverables before the design for CONNECT was complete. DEO took action with intent to terminate the contract with cause. However, it had been determined by several consulting firms that our old system was at serious risk of failure and engaging in another procurement process would further delay the implementation date so a Corrective Action Plan was instituted. Deloitte agreed to pay financial restitution and abide by the contractual performance conditions. Deloitte also changed their project management team and added additional staff to the project site. The project has been rigorously monitored by DEO, external auditors and consultants specializing in systems implementation. With Deloitte meeting the contractual requirements of the design, development, and testing phase gates, it was recommended by the Executive Steering Committee, that had guided the project since inception, that CONNECT be launched."

Asked why she didn’t provide this information Wednesday, or disclose the letter, Sims didn’t reply.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Labor have already alleged that Gov. Rick Scott's administration is violating civil rights by requiring the recipients to file claims online. Because of furloughs from the government shutdown, it’s unclear how federal officials are monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, claimants across the state have been contacting Naked Politics about problems they are encountering.

“It’s been a disaster,” said Dave Jones, a former defense contractor in Bradenton who has been out of work for more than a year. “Why did the state put out such a horrible piece of software. It doesn’t work, and I’ve tried calling probably 100 times, and I just can’t get any help.”

Baxley meets with Equality Florida about gay parents statement

A Florida state representative issued an apology after meeting with representatives of a prominent gay rights organization about statements he made about gay parents many considered disparaging.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, met with Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, and Mallory Garner-Wells, the organization’s public policy director, on Oct. 16. That organization was among the most vocal critics of the remarks Baxley made during an Oct. 8 House committee meeting.

During a rant about parental involvement, he appeared to describe households with "two mommies" as dysfunctional. Baxley issued the following statement a day after his meeting with Equality Florida, according to a press release from the organization:

"Please let me thank Equality Florida leadership for coming to visit with me concerning the remarks in the K-12 Education Committee discussion. I am very sorry anyone was offended. It certainly is not my desire to disparage anyone. The context on the open discussion which turned to 'parental involvement' was to recount a teacher's challenges expressed to me and to express my encouragement to teachers who often provide the stabilizing place for many students who come to school with many life challenges. It is tough for teachers to be accountable for learning gains, but we are showing children can learn no matter their life situations. We all need to thank a teacher."