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5 posts from January 3, 2014

January 03, 2014

Dis-CONNECT in who's to blame for troubled launch of $63-million website

A blame game between state officials and the vendor of a $63 million unemployment website spilled into the public this week, further complicating efforts by claimants to receive their jobless benefits while raising the spectre of a costly legal battle.

“We’re in a Mexican standoff,” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice. “The state is withholding payment. The vendor isn’t fixing the problem. We can’t continue like this. We have to take action, and if they sue us, they sue us.”

Since the Oct. 15 launch of the CONNECT website, thousands of recipients have complained the new system won’t let them log on or register correctly, delaying the payment of benefits that has pushed many to the economic brink.

“I’m losing everything,” said Melissa Perkins, a 35-year-old Sarasota resident amid tears. “I don’t know what else I can do. I have to get people to pay my rent. I’ve worked my entire life since I was 15, and i’ve never asked anyone for anything. What can I do?”

On Thursday, the Department of Economic Opportunity, the agency in charge of the CONNECT website, announced it was doubling its staff of claims processors, at a price to be determined later, because of delays in the processing of claims.

Along with the announcement, the DEO’s executive director, Jesse Panuccio, added a message about Deloitte Consulting, the website’s vendor.

“We will continue to hold Deloitte accountable and I have asked them to devote whatever resources necessary to fix all remaining technical issues,” Panuccio said.

The state and Deloitte have clashed on the project. 

Last year, Department of Economic Opportunity officials considered firing Deloitte, which had well-publicized troubles with similar overhauls of unemployment sites in California and Massachusetts.

But this week was the latest reminder of Panuccio’s recently adopted get-tough public stance with Deloitte, the Minneapolis-based contractor the state hired in 2011 to upgrade and improve its claims system, which was more than 30 years old.

Continue reading "Dis-CONNECT in who's to blame for troubled launch of $63-million website" »

Scott and Crist both Rose Bowl-bound -- to raise money, too

The Rose Bowl in Pasadena will soon be awash in garnet and gold -- along with two Florida political heavyweights raising gold of their own.

Gov. Rick Scott and his leading challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist, both are headed to the championship football game between Florida State and Auburn, and both plan to do some fund-raising while they're out there. A number of legislators are also headed to the game.

The full story is here.

-- Steve Bousquet

Miami congressman's former aide released from jail


Jeffrey Garcia received the best of presents this Christmas: getting out of jail.

The former chief of staff to Congressman Joe Garcia, no relation, was released from Miami-Dade County’s Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center on Dec. 25.

It was the 65th day of his 90-day sentence for unlawfully submitting absentee-ballot requests online. He was granted credits under Florida law that shave days off an inmate’s sentence for every month behind bars and for working in the jail, corrections spokeswoman Janelle Hall said.

Garcia, 41, must still serve three months of house arrest. Then the longtime professional political operative faces 15 more months of probation. During that time, he will be barred from volunteering or working for any campaigns.

In October, Garcia pleaded guilty to directing the congressman’s 2012 campaign to submit more than 1,800 absentee-ballot requests online on behalf of unsuspecting voters. State law requires voters or their immediate family members to ask for the ballots themselves.

“He’s accepted responsibility for what he did, and he’s moving on with his life,” Henry Bell, Garcia’s attorney, said Friday in a telephone interview.

More here.

A weekend of quail hunting for Gov. Scott

Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott will represent the state of Florida at Monday night's college football championship game between FSU and Auburn in Pasadena, California.

But before they head west, the Scotts will do some quail hunting, while also raising money for the governor's re-election campaign.

Donors with deep pockets (and hopefully, wool jackets) are being asked to contribute at least $15,000 to Scott's Let's Get to Work committee, and in return they get to attend a private dinner with the Scotts Friday at Honey Lake Plantation, an elegant and private preserve in Greenville, about 50 miles east of Tallahassee.

Better bring a wool cap and gloves, Governor. The quail hunt starts at 7 a.m. Saturday, when temperatures in the woods of North Florida are expected to be in the low 30s.

Scott's last campaign fund-raising event that was wildlife-related didn't go quite so well, when his campaign abruptly cancelled a planned live gator hunt in New Smyrna Beach in October for donors willing to cough up $25,000.

The Scotts know Honey Lake Plantation's owner, entrepreneur Bob Williamson, who made a fortune in the software industry after a wild young life that included prison time that he chronicles in his autobiography, Miracle on Luckie Street.

Williamson spoke about his life story last spring at a Capitol prayer breakfast that was attended by Scott and legislative leaders. Williamson's daily online inspirational messages have a loyal following.

-- Steve Bousquet, Michael Van Sickler

In New Year's message, ex-Homestead mayor facing corruption charges says he'll be 'exonerated'


It's fair to say that 2013 wasn't the best year for former Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman. Bateman was arrested on corruption charges in August, arrested again for campaign finance violations in November and lost his bid for re-election. 

Still, Bateman focused on the positive in a "Happy New Year" greeting he distributed via e-mail and Facebook. 

"I feel strongly that I left the city better than when I found it," Bateman wrote. "Together, we have made Homestead a better place for your family and mine." 

While some argue that Bateman's public downfall was a black eye for the city, Bateman boasted that his time in office included the opening of a free trolley system, the issuance of more than 700 new business licenses, and "many other key projects." 

"With respect to my legal issues, I believe that justice will prevail and that I will be exonerated," Bateman wrote.