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11 posts from January 15, 2014

January 15, 2014

Rick Scott World rumblings: big shifts in gov's office, campaign and RPOF imminent


There's a higher amount of traffic than usual about some big shifts in Gov. Rick Scott's office, his campaign and the Republican Party of Florida. The announcement could happen as early as Friday. Still, consider this all informed speculation based on multiple sources:

Melissa Sellers, the governor's spokeswoman, could soon be tapped to lead the campaign as manager, Republicans say. Sellers wasn't ready to confirm or deny the chatter. 

As the news started to break, Saintpetersblog's Peter Schorsch was the first to tweet that he heard about Sellers' possible move. So hat tip (assuming it's true, which it sounded as if it is). Schorsch noted the curiosity that Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, might not get the post (which many expected him to snag). With the appointment of Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera to lieutenant governor, where Scott wants to use the former legislator to press his agenda in the Legislature, it looks as if Hollingsworth has lost a measure of power (probably inevitable, regardless of who was chosen for the post).

It's unclear if Sellers, former spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, has ever run a campaign -- especially a $100 million behemoth that Scott's could become. Either way, given her representation of Scott, there's a good chance she's up to the task. And she could have help.

Tim Saler, RPOF's deputy director for political strategy, might be chosen to be the campaign's deputy director or its political director, sources said. He didn't want to comment.

Matt Moon, RPOF's communications director, could become communications director for the campaign. This press person, too, wouldn't comment along with RPOF spokeswoman Susan Hepworth, who could take over his role at the party. It's always telling when press communications people don't communicate with the press. 

But don't think RPOF is going to be bare. It's going to be a bear (or a bull for you stock-market types).

The party is hiring a: Media Affairs Manager, Communications Assistant, War Room operative, Director of Press Advance (experience needed), Press Advance Field member, Hispanic Comms expert, Research and Rapid Response employee, Bracketing Manager, Digital Content/Community Manager, Digital Rapid Response Manager, Email Manager, Viral Marketing Manager, Website Content Manager, Copy Writer, Digital Insights Analyst, Graphic Designer, Paid Media Coordinator, and Digital-Political Coordinator.

"It's going to be bigger than Mitt Romney's campaign in Florida," a Republican said. "No one will ever have seen a campaign like this in Florida. The Democrats and Charlie Crist won't know what hit them."

MIA proposes downsized Airport City project, which could defuse political opposition


The Miami-Dade Aviation Department on Wednesday proposed a radical reconfiguration of Airport City, a controversial project that Odebrecht USA – a part of a Brazilian multinational conglomerate – wants to build on Miami International Airport property on the west side of Le Jeune Road.

Emilio González, the Aviation Department director, unveiled the revised project during a meeting of a county commission committee where an Odebrecht representative said he was disappointed but willing to collaborate with the county to develop the revised project.

The revision outlined by González’s staff would amount to a dramatic downsizing of the initial massive $512-million project that envisaged building on 33-acres of three MIA parcels a business park with restaurants, retail and office space, a high-end hotel with conference and convention facilities, convenience services such as dry cleaners, a pet hotel and a gas station.

Now, under the new proposal MIA would retain control of the biggest 24-acre parcel where Airport City would be developed and use it to further expand the airfield by building additional aircraft parking spaces and other aviation services.

González and other aviation department officials told commissioners at the meeting that MIA needs to modify the original project because it now wants the 24-acre parcel to meet anticipated growth of airport operations.

“Our recommendation is that Miami-Dade Aviation Department be allowed to keep those 24 acres which we hope to develop in aviation-related businesses,” González told El Nuevo Herald after the presentation. “If we were to start building hotels and office parks, we’d never get it back.”

Left unsaid was the expectation that the major modification could help the county defuse opposition to the project by some Cuban-American community leaders and politicians.

More here.

On eve of vote, dispute between Miami-Dade County, labor unions gets ugly


Mailed packages arrived by the dozens recently at the offices of Miami-Dade County Commissioners Rebeca Sosa and Sally Heyman, so many that Heyman said she had trouble getting through the door.

Inside were rubber beach sandals, hundreds of them, inscribed with handwritten messages.

They weren’t holiday presents. They were flip-flops for perceived flip-floppers.

“Some say ‘traitor,’ ” Sosa said. “I haven’t had the time to read them all.”

That is how nasty the county’s contract disputes have become with employee unions, with another commission vote coming Thursday.

Frustrated workers have been clamoring to have their pay restored as planned, after agreeing four years ago to sacrifice during the economic downturn.

Sosa, the commission chairwoman, and Heyman were targeted for initially supporting and then voting against labor last month.

More here.

Miami Beach kills major convention center project


Miami Beach, with a new mandate by a new mayor, has called off a proposed $1 billion redevelopment of its convention center district, upending a years-long process that garnered international attention, star architects and an ambitious plan to transform the decades-old center and surrounding neighborhood with a hotel, shops and restaurants.

Commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to terminate negotiations with South Beach ACE, a master development team the city had chosen in July to design and build the 52-acre project. Instead, the city will issue a new bid for only the renovation of the city-owned convention center.

The city will also scout possible locations for the development of a nearby hotel. The city hopes to pursue both projects concurrently, but separate from each other.

Previously, both the hotel and convention center renovation were considered the same project and ACE would have developed both.

Industry leaders say it’s imperative that the city bring its convention center up-to-date and add a hotel in order to stay competitive, keep hotel rooms full and shops and restaurants bustling. The city’s budget relies, in part, on tourist taxes.

More here.

Consortium issues vision for South Florida's future


The future prosperity and livability of the seven-county Southeast Florida region could hinge on the development of commuter rail and walkable infill neighborhoods in urban centers, installation of high-tech infrastructure to spur economic growth, and an aggressive — and likely costly — adaptation to sea-level rise that would otherwise swamp low-lying communities.

Those are some of the far-reaching conclusions of a consortium of planners, public officials and civic and business leaders who on Wednesday wrapped up an unprecedented three-year effort to develop a voluntary blueprint to guide the super-region’s growth through 2060.

Dubbed Seven/50, the consortium released a lengthy but accessibly readable, interactive and hyperlinked online report — available at www.seven50report.org — that contains a detailed portrait of the region, identifies common trends, needs and issues, and sets out a broad range of strategies to address them.

Already, Seven/50 leaders say, the plan has given impulse to some significant cooperative efforts across political and public-private boundaries in the region.

More here.

Miami Heat wants 10 more years on county arena deal


The Miami Heat and Miami-Dade County are negotiating a 10-year extension of the deal that lets the team play at the AmericanAirlines Arena and receive about $6.5 million a year in hotel taxes to subsidize operations.

On Wednesday, Heat executives met at County Hall with Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his top aides about extending the team’s original deal in exchange for the Heat launching a major upgrade of the 14-year-old arena.

The current deal expires in 2029, and the Heat said it wants to work out an extension through 2039 now in order to invest in more upgrades at the county-owned arena. A county commissioner is pushing the mayor to get the deal done by March.

Ed Marquez, the deputy mayor for finance, said the talks currently involve what kind of improvements the Heat are willing to make at the facility, which opened on the downtown waterfront in 2000.

“We want to see what kind of an arena we want to have. Then we can start talking about the terms of the contract,’’ Marquez said.

Heat executives declined interview requests Wednesday but have said in the past they want a new deal now in order to get ahead of renovations the arena will need in the coming years. Without significant investments, the team maintains, AmericanAirlines Arena will become dated and, eventually, unsuitable, for an NBA team.

More here.

Jackson Health System trying to understand surge in uninsured patients


Officials at Jackson Health System say they do not know what has caused a surge of uninsured patients to flood emergency rooms in the past few months, leading to nearly a $1 million loss for December.

On Wednesday, the Public Health Trust that runs Jackson asked hospital administrators for weekly updates on the influx of uninsured. The change in the financial picture could potentially threaten the success story pitched last fall to Miami-Dade voters, who approved $830 million in taxpayer financing to upgrade the county’s aging hospital network.

Jackson executives said they’re monitoring patient admissions daily to better understand what’s driving the greater numbers of uninsured, who are being admitted largely through the hospital system’s emergency rooms at the main campus in Miami and at the satellite in South Miami-Dade.

Jackson’s third hospital, in North Miami Beach, saw a decrease in uninsured patients.

Carlos Migoya, chief executive, said the number of uninsured patients at Jackson has been rising steadily since about October.

But as of this week, said Mark Knight, chief financial officer: “We don't know why.”

More here.

Miami-Dade gets control of Grove playhouse


After years in limbo, the Coconut Grove Playhouse cleared a giant hurdle on the road to revival Wednesday when state officials gave the final go-ahead for Miami-Dade County to take control of the historic theater.

With just hours to spare to meet an unmovable state deadline, county officials delivered a package of legal documents to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection demonstrating that they had managed to clean up the theater’s long-clouded property title by satisfying a list of creditors, ranging from the city of Miami to an office-supply company.

Had the county not met the Wednesday deadline, the state was required by ironclad rules to put the property up for sale to the highest bidder, a prospect no one in Miami or Tallahassee relished.

Though the documents were decidedly non-sexy, the bottom line is “thrilling,’’ said Miami-Dade cultural affairs director Michael Spring: It means the county can move on an ambitious plan to rebuild the deteriorated 1926 playhouse building, which is considered an architectural and cultural landmark as well as a critical economic driver for Coconut Grove’s village center. The county long ago earmarked $20 million in bond proceeds for the project.

More here.

Miami-Dade's GOP and Dem party chairs join forces: Stop sex-trafficking

From a press release:

The Chairwoman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, and the Chairman of the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County, Nelson Diaz, have joined their efforts to declare bi-partisan support on behalf of one of our community’s most vulnerable populations — child-victims of sex trafficking.

“While we may not always agree on certain policies, the Miami-Dade County Democratic and Republican parties are 100% committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our society, children. There is no such thing as partisanship when combatting the most insidious crimes, like child sex trafficking. We must all work together to ensure these victims receive the treatment they need and that the criminals who traffic in children spend their lives behind bars. After what we saw recently at an adult club in Miami Beach, no one can afford to sit on the sidelines; we must all do what we can to protect our children,” said Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, Chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, and Nelson Diaz, Chair of the Miami-Dade Republican Party.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month. On Friday, January 24, 2014, we ask that you join us in support of Kristi House at the 2nd Annual Walk the Blue Carpet Event (http://www.kristihouse.org/blue-carpet-event/).  

Kristi House became involved in the human trafficking movement in 2007 as the organization recognized that sex-trafficked children were victims of the severest form of child sexual abuse. Until Kristi House’s involvement — along with the dedication and perseverance of so many advocates — these children were referred to as “child prostitutes.” Kristi House launched its program with one laptop, a few dollars and an army of dedicated volunteers who would go out on the streets to find these children and direct them to services.

Today, with the help and collaboration of those courageous advocates, Kristi House wrote and introduced legislation in Florida and achieved the passage of the Florida Safe Harbor Act in 2012 with bi-partisan support. Now these children who were once viewed as criminals are recognized as the child-victims they are and are receiving services they desperately need to make their lives whole again.

Please join us and stand united in our commitment to end this epidemic and prevent the same harm to future generations.

In CONNECT debacle, Scott's staff says it's entirely the vendor's fault

Three months after its launch, Florida’s new $63 million website is showing signs of improvement but still falls far short of adequately serving claimants who depend on it for benefits, according to testimony by state officials Wednesday.

“The roll out of the new computer system has not gone as hoped or as promised by the vendor,” said Jesse Panuccio, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity told a senate appropriations committee. “And no one is more frustrated about that than the DEO.”

It’s not clear how quickly the CONNECT website will be fixed or who will resolve the problems that have delayed weekly payments, which are at most $275, for thousands of claimants since mid October. On Tuesday night, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson announced that officials with the U.S. Department of Labor were arriving later this week to “help fix” the website and wouldn’t leave until the problems are resolved.

The initial vendor, Deloitte Consulting, has hired 10 additional programmers to work on the project, but Panuccio announced Wednesday that he signed a $365,000 contract with a second vendor, Capgemini, to consult on Tuesday night.

In a more guarded presentation than the upbeat one he gave senators in November, Panuccio on Wednesday directed all blame at the vendor, Deloitte Consulting. Unlike his presentation two months ago, no Deloitte officials joined him at the podium, a further indication of how fractured, and potentially litigious, their relationship has become.

For now, more pressing for Panuccio are the numbers he disclosed to senators showing dubious progress.

Unlike regular claims that don’t require review, those that have questions have increased considerably. Because of complications caused by the technical glitches with the new CONNECT website, Panuccio said the number of these cases has climbed to about 60,000 -- an increase of between 17 percent to 25 percent.

In addition, calls to DEO have remained persistently high. After a dramatic drop from the first week high of 1.3 million total calls, the volume of calls flatlined to about 300,000. They have dipped in recent weeks, but the length of time on each call is longer than ever.

“So we’re able to answer fewer unique calls,” Panuccio said.

The numbers confirm what many suspect: widespread problems remain.

U.S. Department of Labor stats showed that claims dropped by nearly 20 percent since the launch of CONNECT. The non-profit National Employment Law Project estimated unemployed Floridians may have been denied more than $22 million in benefits in October and November after CONNECT launched.

Lawmakers are getting flooded with complaints and have, of late, shown an interest in CONNECT.

“Obviously, we’ve been getting questions on this,” said Sen. Andy Gardiner, the chair of the Senate’s transportation, tourism and economic development committee before Wednesday’s hearing, which was attended by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Yet as with November, senators avoided asking Panuccio critical questions and seemed willing to accept his version that it was Deloitte’s fault.

“They appear to be very much in default, and yet there is no way to restore the reputational damage that’s done to your department, to the state, to this Legislature because of their failure,” said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

Panuccio said the state may try to “recoup costs” from Deloitte, which has been fined $15,000 a day since Dec. 20 when the DEO concluded it hadn’t fixed 53 technical issues.

Deloitte has pushed back, blaming problems on system errors that weren’t related to the website. In a letter posted on the DEO website, Panuccio firmly disagreed and a few days later announced he was negotiating with Capgemini.

Perhaps chastened by difficulties with the federal Healthcare.Gov website overseen by President Barack Obama’s administration, state Democratic lawmakers have been mostly subdued in their criticism, only recently saying they wouldn’t trust DEO’s assurances again.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, called the website a “dismal failure” before the hearing during a news conference, but raised no such objections or asked critical questions during the hearing.