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6 posts from September 2, 2014

September 02, 2014

Who will compete with John Thrasher for FSU presidency? Applications due at midnight


Tonight is the deadline for anyone who wants to apply to become Florida State University's next president.

The search firm and conventional wisdom say that the most qualified applicants emerge at the ninth hour whenever Florida's state universities look for new presidents. We will be checking the FSU website in the morning to get the final list of applicants and see if that rings true once again.

For now, the list is pretty short on high-ranking academics -- think sitting or former presidents, provosts and chancellors -- that some students, faculty and alumni say they would prefer.

Instead, two names continue to dominate the list of 25 applicants: state Sen. John Thrasher, a powerful alum who has been considered the front-runner for the job, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston.

The presidential search advisory committee will meet Friday to review the applications and select finalists to interview next week.

Click here for a list of all applicants thus far.

Lee County School Board reverses decision to opt out of tests

The Lee County School Board on Tuesday rescinded a controversial decision to opt out of all state-mandated testing.

The board reversed course after Lee County schools Superintendent Nancy Graham said the district could lose as much as $280 million in state funding. The Florida School Boards Association had also warned that thousands of high school students might be unable to graduate.

It was School Board member Mary Fischer who had a change of heart.

Fischer, who had sided with the 3-2 majority last week, called for the vote to be reconsidered Tuesday.

"It is not easy to sit up here and say I want to change my mind," Fisher said, adding that the board's initial vote "[had] multiple consequences that are not in the best interest of the students, the teachers, the district and the community at large."

The two other board members who voted against testing last week, Thomas Scott and Don Armstrong, remained unmoved.

"What we chose Wednesday the 27th was the right decision and I'll stick by that decision," Armstrong said.

More than 60 members of the public attended Tuesday's meeting. Many dressed in red to show their opposition to the state tests and Florida's new education benchmarks.

Emma Jane Miller, a former private-school teacher from Brandon, urged the school board to maintain its earlier position.

"Your decision to opt out of the testing was not rash, but necessary," she said.

Judd Cribbs, an assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, said the state assessments had made public education in Florida "nothing more than fact regurgitation."

"Here's your chance to do what's right if you truly have students' best interest in mind," Cribbs told the board prior to the vote.

But some parents, including Stephanie Bloch, made the case for testing and accountability.

"While the Florida Standards may not be perfect, accountability is necessary," said Bloch, herself a graduate of the Lee County school system. "We should want for our children to achieve the highest level of which they are capable."


A (half) whopper about Burger King's taxes

When Burger King, the American fast-food icon, announced a deal to join forces with the Canadian coffee-and-donuts giant Tim Hortons, the reaction was swift. Burger King, it turned out, would become part of a Canadian parent company, potentially resulting in significant savings on what it pays in U.S. taxes -- a maneuver known as a corporate tax "inversion." Politicians, and ordinary Americans, cried foul.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, urged customers to bring their fast-food cravings to two companies that have long operated from Ohio -- Wendy’s and White Castle. "Burger King has always said ‘Have it Your Way,’ " Brown said in a statement. "Well, my way is to support two Ohio companies that haven’t abandoned their country or customers."

Meanwhile, hundreds of commenters took to Facebook to protest the move. "If Burger King goes ahead with the ugly, greedy, anti-American tax-avoidance ploy of this inversion, I will NEVER AGAIN set foot inside any of your restaurants," said one.

A reader asked us to check the accuracy of Burger King’s own Facebook message about the transaction. Here’s what the companyposted:

"We hear you. We’re not moving, we’re just growing and finding ways to serve you better.

"As part of the announcement made today, both Burger King Corp. and Tim Hortons will continue to operate as independent brands. We’ll just be under common ownership. Our headquarters will remain in Miami where we were founded more than 60 years ago and business will continue as usual at our restaurants around the world.

"The decision to create a new global QSR leader with Tim Hortons is not tax-driven – it’s about global growth for both brands. BKC will continue to pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes.

"We’re proud of the heritage of Burger King and will maintain our long-standing commitment to our employees, franchisees and the local communities we serve.

"The WHOPPER isn’t going anywhere."

We decided to check the company’s claim that after merging with Tim Hortons of Canada, Burger King is "not moving. … Our headquarters will remain in Miami" and "(we) will continue to pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes." (Burger King's public-relations firm did not return an inquiry.) Turn to Louis Jacobson's full fact-check.

George Sheldon launches campaign PAC


Democratic attorney general nominee George Sheldon is stepping his campaign up a notch through the launch of his own political committee.

Called "Floridians Seeking Common Ground," the PAC will be co-chaired by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Walt McNeil, the former Corrections secretary who is now chief of police in Quincy. Shelton said his goal is to use the pack to build a coalition of supporters unsatisfied with the Republican-led Cabinet, particularly Attorney General Pam Bondi, on such issues as the environment and restoration of rights for felons.

Floridians Seeking Common Ground is not yet showing up on the state's Division of Elections website as a registered entity.

During this mornings news conference, Sheldon also said he has been in talks with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and will embark on joint voter turnout initiatives. He also is pushing Bondi to more debates beyond the one that both have agreed to.

Truth-O-Meter says Crist's attack on Rick Scott and Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein misleads voters

The Republican Party of Florida attacked former Gov. Charlie Crist in a TV ad alleging that he let Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein pick judicial appointments in exchange for campaign donations.

Crist’s campaign fired back with its ownad Aug. 18 that included a slew of attacks on Scott, including this one:

"Now he’s teamed up with a felon convicted of running a Ponzi scheme to smear Charlie Crist with false attacks."

The text on the screen states "Rothstein gets 50 years in $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme."

Crist’s ad shows a photo of a grinning Rothstein wearing luxury watches and attributes that to an ABC News story from June 2010 when Rothstein was convicted. The Republicans’ ad about Rothstein used the same image.

While the photo of Rothstein remains on the screen, the text of the ad says: "Scott Rothstein bought expensive things" and then the text on the screen says "FALSE ATTACKS." (The small print refers to a Sun-Sentinel article about an auction of Rothstein's possessions.)

That’s a whole lot of Rothstein mash-up going on for viewers.

For nearly five years, media reports have outlined how Rothstein donated generously to a long list of politicians including Crist. But this was the first we had heard of an allegation about Scott teaming up with Rothstein, so we decided to check it out.

In fact, there is no evidence that Scott and Rothstein have literally "teamed up" -- what Crist is referring to is the Republican Party using the Rothstein scandal to attack Crist. The evidence that Crist cited in his ad backup was simply a news report about Rothstein’s conviction.

"Ponzi schemer's words + Rick Scott's money = teaming up," Brendan Gilfillan told PolitiFact Florida in an email. Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see how we rated this ad.

A Black History museum complicates the culture-spending debate in Miami-Dade


The question of a Cuban Exile museum prompted sharp debate this summer on the Miami-Dade commission, where ethnic tensions sometimes thrust themselves onto the agenda. Now comes a new request from the commission's senior African-American member: a Black History museum on prime Miami waterfront, possibly built with county funds. 

It's a proposal that touches on an ongoing controversy, as Mayor Carlos Gimenez tries to shift hotel taxes from an art museum to pay for police salaries. And it's sure to present commissioners with another debate over celebrating the many layers of Miami-Dade's history.

Read the story here