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9 posts from November 18, 2013

November 18, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New member appointed to board overseeing oil spill disaster funds

Attorney General Pam Bondi has appointed Dr. Pamela J. Dana to the board of directors for Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., which is now charged with creating and administering the recovery fund for disproportionately affected counties impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.

Eight counties that were most affected by the disaster are slated to receive the biggest amount from civil fines resulting from the oil spill, though 23 counties will receive a portion of the money.

Dana is senior strategic advisor for the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, a Florida-based robotics research institute and she owns a charter sport fishing business in Destin. She served as the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development during Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration.

Judicial appointments

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed Giuseppina Miranda, of Fort Lauderdale, to the Broward County Court.

Miranda, 51, has been a general magistrate with the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court since 2007. Previously, she was a lawyer in private practice, and from 1999-2004, she served as an assistant state attorney in the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

Former Speaker Bense recuperating from rare disease

Former House Speaker Allan Bense talked publicly about his fight against a rare autoimmune disease and relearning basic functions in this Sunday's Panama City News Herald. An excerpt:

Former Florida House Speaker Allan Bense says he’s feeling better; his weight has stabilized and he’s starting to regain control of his body — a far cry from when he "almost bought the farm a couple of times."

The Panama City resident has Guillain-Barré syndrome and is in an Atlanta hospital undergoing intense rehab as he fights to relearn how to perform everyday activities, like walking, talking and eating. He started rehab last week and is making progress; just holding and carrying on a decent conversation is one example, he said.

"Guillain-Barré syndrome — basically your autoimmune system turns on you; it just kills all of your nerve endings, and I frankly almost bought the farm a couple of times," he said in a phone interview Wednesday.

The disease is very rare, hitting only one in 100,000 people. It comes out of nowhere. He felt as if he was having a heart attack on Sept. 8 and went to Gulf Coast Medical Center, but continued to get weaker and a week later was transferred to Shands Hospital in Gainesville.

From there he returned to Panama City and underwent six rounds of plasma exchange treatments. The process removes blood from the body, separates the red and whites blood cells from the plasma, and then the blood is returned to the body without the plasma, according to the National Institutes of Health website.

Now, Bense, 62, appears to be out of the woods and his optimism is growing as improves. He's at the Shepherd Center — an Atlanta hospital that specializes in treating spinal cord and brain injuries.

Read more here.


Miami killer's execution delayed amid questions about new drug

In a 5-2 decision, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday ordered that Thomas Knight's scheduled execution be delayed so he can argue that a new drug used to anesthetize a prisoner at the start of a lethal injection could subject him to "serious harm." Knight, also known as Askari Abdullah Muhammad, had been scheduled to die at Florida State Prison on Dec. 3.

Florida is the only state in the U.S. that uses midazolam hydrochloride as an anesthetic in the first stage of a three-drug lethal injection mixture. The new drug replaced pentobarbital after the state Department of Corrections exhausted its supply.

The state's high court stayed Knight's execution until at least Dec. 27 and sent his case back the state's Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Bradford County, where he is imprisoned. A circuit court judge must hold a hearing on the inmate's claims and issue a ruling no later than 2 p.m. Nov. 26, two days before Thanksgiving, after which time both sides can file additional arguments.

Knight has been on Death Row since 1975 for the murders of a Miami couple. While in prison he stabbed a correctional officer, Richard Burke, to death. It is that killing for which he is condemned to die.

In its order, the court said: "The Court has determined that Muhammad’s claim as to the use of midazolam hydrochloride as an anesthetic in the amount prescribed by Florida’s protocol warrants an evidentiary hearing. We conclude based on the allegations in Muhammad’s 3.851 motion that he has raised a factual dispute, not conclusively refuted, as to whether the use of midazolam hydrochloride in Florida’s lethal injection protocol will subject him to a “substantial risk of serious harm."

"We further direct the DOC (Department of Corrections) to produce correspondence and documents it has received from the manufacturer of midazolam hydrochloride concerning the drug’s use in executions or otherwise, including those addressing any safety and efficacy issues," the court ordered.

Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince, Jorge Labarga and James Perry were in the majority. Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justice Charles Canady dissented.

-- Steve Bousquet

Broward school board applicant has Bogdanoff's backing


Five Broward residents have submitted questionnaires to Gov. Rick Scott seeking an appointment to the Broward School Board to replace Katie Leach who recently announced that she would leave Dec. 21 due to her husband accepting a job in California. Leach, who was appointed by Scott in 2011, is one of two Republicans on the Democrat-dominated board.

Look to the references portion of the applications for a clue as to who will interest Scott: Heather Brinkworth listed Leach and former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. Brinkworth changed her voter registration from independent to Republican in October.

In addition to her political ties, she has the education credentials. Brinkworth, a Fort Lauderdale mom, is a regional manager for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and a former Broward schools reading teacher. She is also the PTA President at Bayview Elementary and chairs the City of Fort Lauderdale’s Education Advisory Board.

Here’s a summary of the other applicants based on the information they provided in quesionnaires:

* Roberto Fernandez: Boyd Anderson High School social studies teacher since 2005 and the county’s social studies teacher of the year in 2013. Democrat.

* John Perez: city of Oakland Park Project Manager of Engineering & Construction Management Division, former Broward schools transportation employee. Member of Broward schools facilities task force. No party affiliation.

* Thomas Glaser: Social studies teacher at Mater Academy Charter High School in Hialeah Gardens and past Miami-Dade schools teacher and administrator. Libertarian.

* Harry Moon: President of Himmarshee Surgical Partners in Fort Lauderdale.

Scott hasn’t announced any timeline for interviews or making an appointment.

Gov. Scott considering short list of four for lieutenant governor

Gov. Rick Scott has four people under serious consideration to be his next lieutenant governor, including two from Tampa Bay, the Times/Herald learned Monday.

The governor's short list includes Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, a former state House member; state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a former Senate president; Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger; and Joseph Joyner, the appointed superintendent of schools in St. Johns County.

The governor's office declined to comment on specific names. "We will take the right time to find the right person," spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said.

The office of lieutenant governor has been vacant since Jennifer Carroll resigned on March 12. Not on Scott's short list is state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who has been prominently mentioned in speculation about filling the vacancy. Nor are there any Hispanics or South Florida names on the Scott list, but it does not appear that an appointment is imminent.

In his most recent comments to capital reporters on the subject a week ago, Scott said: "I'm still reviewing it. There's a lot of great people around the state that could be great lieutenant governors, so we're still going through the process."

-- Steve Bousquet

Rick Scott's taxpayer-paid campaign-like letters now going out to.... new attorneys


Image-5Maybe $100 million just isn't enough.

Though Gov. Rick Scott's reelection campaign has plans to spend this eye-popping amount (about as much as 2010), taxpayers are also chipping in to help spread the Republican's talking points to business-license holders and, now, new attorneys.

Those admitted to the Florida Bar are starting to receive new letters from Scott congratulating them -- and crediting Scott for Florida's improving economic conditions.

"In the four years before taking office, Florida lost more than 832,000 jobs, and unemployment more than tripled -- from 3.5 to 11.1 percent," Scott writes. "State debt increased by $5.2 billion, our housing market collapsed, our economy was off track and our families were hurting."

The language closely tracks the heart of his campaigns talking points, both past and present. However, Scott doesn't explicitly blame his predecessor and now-current rival, Democrat Charlie Crist, who is besting the embattled and unpopular governor by as much as 10 percentage points in some polls.

Continue reading "Rick Scott's taxpayer-paid campaign-like letters now going out to.... new attorneys" »

Cuba believed to have intercepted details of U.S. aid to dissidents

By Juan O. Tamayo

The documents were definitely not classified as secret. But they contained detailed information about U.S. government programs to help Cuban dissidents that Havana has outlawed as a semi-clandestine campaign to topple the communist system.

So when the U.S. Agency for International Development mistakenly used an unencrypted line to send the documents to U.S. diplomats in Havana, USAID officials were chagrined and some of the authors of the document were incredulous.

“An amazingly stupid thing to do,” said an official of one of the groups that generated the documents — minutely detailed applications for a $6 million USAID program to train emerging leaders of Cuba’s non-government sectors.

His application of more than 200 pages contained a complete history of his past work with USAID’s pro-democracy programs in Cuba, the official said, some names of possible trainees and venues where they might be trained.

USAID has played down the impact of the mistake, arguing that the U.S. government never classified the pro-democracy programs as secret or even confidential.

More here.

Sweetwater hired fencing company owned by city cop, daughter of a Miami-Dade commissioner

via @BrendaMedinar @msanchezMIA

Sweetwater's former police chief promoted at least four officers who did not have the proper qualifications, according to a grievance filed by Miami-Dade County's largest police union.

Among the officers named in the complaint from the Police Benevolent Association: Sgt. Jenna Mendez, the daughter of Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell.

Mendez owns a fencing company, Fence Assured, with her husband, Damian -- a fact Bell did not disclose earlier this year when she successfully sponsored legislation to allow more chain-link fences in front of homes.

In October of last year, Sweetwater gave the company a fencing contract, according to El Nuevo Herald's Brenda Medina and Melissa Sanchez: 

El Nuevo Herald weeks ago requested access to the personnel file of Officer Méndez, the daughter of County Commissioner Lynda Bell, as well as the files of other officers.

However, police spokesperson Jorge Fernández de Lara said this week that “higher authorities had requested that police personnel files and other documents” be kept secured because they could become evidence in an investigation.

Fernández de Lara, who did not identify the “higher authorities,” said those documents are locked in the department’s evidence room despite the fact that they are public records.

Méndez’s family has also received other benefits from the city of Sweetwater.

In October of last year, the city gave a contract to Fence Assured LLC, a fence installation company owned by Méndez and her husband, Damian.

City officials could not specify on Friday how much money the city has paid to Fence Assured since the signing of the contract, but the company has installed several wire-mesh fences at several Sweetwater properties, including a piece of land on Northwest 17th Street that, according to images published on the company’s website, are used by two city helicopters.

In February, Bell promoted legislation at the county commission to lift a ban on wire-mesh fences at homes without revealing her daughter’s business in this field. The Eye on Miami blog first reported on the fencing company last week.

Méndez started working as a police officer for the city of Sweetwater in January 2011, less than a year after being fired from the Homestead Police Department. Méndez lost her job as a reserve officer in Homestead, where her mother had been mayor, after allegedly threatening her boyfriend with a gun in February 2010. Méndez’s lawyer argued then that it had been in self-defense.

Méndez did not answer phone messages on Friday.

More here.

Former North Miami mayor to pay $7,000 to settle ethics complaint

By Philippe Buteau

Former North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre has agreed to pay more than $7,000 stemming from using a city athletic field for his private soccer club without paying any rent, as required by a city rule, according to a settlement with the county’s ethics commission.

Between October 2009 and January 2012, “Mayor Pierre solicited free use of city-owned facilities without paying fees that are required by other similar groups, and he neglected to disclose the value of the use of the soccer fields on financial disclosure forms,’’ the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust said in a statement Thursday.

Pierre, who could not be reached for comment Friday, did not contest the charges, the Ethics Commission said. He will pay a fine of $500, investigative costs of $4,634.70 to the Ethics Commission, as well as reimburse the City of North Miami $2,181.72 — for a total of $7,316.42. He will also receive a Letter of Instruction.

A Miami Herald investigation in April 2012 reported that Pierre reserved the North Miami Athletic Stadium, 2555 NE 151st St., for private soccer practice 78 times from October 2009 to September 2011. Based on the city’s regular rates, the rentals would have cost around $29,000.

More here.