Gov. Rick Scott Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Richard Biter among dozens applying for state transportation secretary

Richard Biter, one of two unsuccessful finalists for the top job at Enterprise Florida, now has thrown in his hat to be the state’s next Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Biter is one of more than 80 applicants for the open position, created when former Secretary Jim Boxold resigned in January to join Tallahassee’s Capital City Consulting firm.

It would be a homecoming for Biter: He’s a former assistant secretary of the department.

But he may not be on the short list. The Florida Transportation Commission, the advisory board that will interview applicants and nominate three candidates for Gov. Rick Scott’s consideration, recently extended the application deadline to May 1.

Jay N. Trumbull, the commission’s chairman, had said the panel needed more time “to complete a robust search and conduct the interview process post-Legislative Session.”

Biter last year was a finalist for CEO of Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development organization, along with Mike Finney, the former president of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Finney withdrew, choosing instead to seek a teaching job at the University of Michigan, and Scott eventually tapped Chris Hart, the president and CEO of CareerSource Florida.

Hart suddenly quit earlier this month, however, citing a lack of “common vision” with the governor.

Before serving at FDOT, Biter was a transportation consultant, according to his LinkedIn page. He also has been an administrator with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the now-defunct Interstate Commerce Commission.

Other applicants include Alexander Barr, the department’s Bicycle and Pedestrian coordinator for its Treasure Coast-South Florida district; and Phillip Gainer, its District Secretary for northwest Florida. 

Out-of-staters include Brandye Hendrickson, who was Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation under then-Gov. Mike Pence; and Brian Roper, a supervisor at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

As is often the case with high-level state openings, dozens of fringe candidates also have filed for the job, including those who list their current place of employment as “Waffle House,” “Grub Burger Bar” and even “Florida Statue University.”  

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Carlos Beruff: Constitution Revision Commission won’t waste taxpayers’ money or time

The newly-formed Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) won’t spend time on changes that can’t pass at the ballot box, its chairman said Monday.

“If the public doesn’t feel overwhelmingly supportive of (a proposed amendment), then why do it?” said Carlos Beruff, the Manatee County homebuilder appointed by Gov. Rick Scott. The panel held an organizational meeting in the Capitol.

“It just doesn’t make sense (when) we have a threshold of 60 percent,” he added. “We don’t need to waste the taxpayers’ money or their time with proposals we don’t think are going to meet that.”

The 37-member panel meets every 20 years to suggest rewrites and additions to the state’s governing document, but its suggestions have to be approved by 60 percent of voters during the next statewide election.

When asked if he’ll authorize polling to know what will make the cut and what won’t, he said, “That’ll probably be part of the plan but I’m not sure.”

He quickly added with a laugh: “I’m not much on that stuff, though. I spent money on polling; I know how that works.” Beruff, a Republican, unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in last year’s primary election.

He did announce the schedule for the first of a series of public hearings for ideas for amendments: Next Wednesday in Orange County, April 6 in Miami-Dade County, and April 7 in Palm Beach County. Times and exact locations are yet to be decided, he said.

Beruff also postponed a vote on the commission’s rules, including already contentious provisions on public records and open meetings.

The First Amendment Foundation (FAF), an open government watchdog, earlier Monday asked Beruff to apply open meeting standards to any meeting of commissioners, not just meetings of three or more.

The current draft rule tracks the Legislature’s rule that two people can meet without requiring notice and availability for public attendance.

Former Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, an appointee of Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, said she was concerned there was no provision for a vice-chair.

“There’s no continuity in the event that he, for some reason, cannot act,” she said of Beruff. “That affects how people feel about the integrity of the process.”

As governor, Scott chose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and selected the chairperson. Richard Corcoran, as House Speaker, got nine picks, as did Joe Negron as head of the Senate. Chief Justice Labarga is allotted three picks. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to have been selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

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Chad Poppell quits as head of DMS

Another one bites the dust: Chad Poppell has resigned as Secretary of the Department of Management Services, the state’s real estate manager.

His resignation will be effective on March 31, Gov. Rick Scott announced on Thursday evening. Poppell has been head of DMS since 2014. 

“Chad Poppell has done an outstanding job and I want to thank him for his hard work to improve efficiency and foster innovation in state government,” Scott said in a statement. “Under his leadership, Florida has remained a leader in government efficiency and provided the critical support to our state agencies to ensure Florida families and businesses receive the services and support they need.”

The announcement did not give a reason for his departure.

“Chad has been a valued member of my team since 2013 and I am proud of the great work he has done for Florida families. I wish Chad and his family the very best in their future endeavors.”

Before becoming DMS Secretary, Poppell was chief of staff at the Department of Economic Opportunity.

From 2011-2013, he worked as the Director of Employee Services at JEA, a municipally owned electric, water, and sewer provider in Jacksonville.

Poppell also was appointed by then-Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton as Human Resources Chief for the City of Jacksonville. He received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Valdosta State University.

Poppell now joins other Scott-appointed agency heads to have exited the administration recently.

Last month, Jason Allison left as head of the state’s Agency for State Technology for a job with the Foley & Lardner law firm.

Before that, the Foley firm stole another Scott appointee: Jon Steverson, the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

And Jim Boxold resigned in January as Secretary of the Department of Transportation to join the governmental affairs firm Capital City Consulting.

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Rick Scott rallies allies for VISIT FLORIDA

With VISIT FLORIDA chief Ken Lawson acting as hype man, Gov. Rick Scott held a rally inside the Florida Capitol to “save” the embattled tourism organization.

Scott, not typically a high-energy performer, worked up the crowd of hundreds in the building’s rotunda with the help of CFO Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. In the background, Lawson hollered, “That’s right!” and “Yessir!”

“We need to remain the tourist capital of the world,” Scott said to cheers and whistling.

Meantime, dozens of hotel and restaurant employees and others in tourism-related businesses packed the Plaza level, many holding signs of support, such as “Tourism = Tax revenue,” while others recorded on their smartphones.

“I find it so hard to comprehend that all of you needed to leave your businesses to come here to fight for what the most obvious brand of Florida is, a family-friendly tourist destination,” Putnam said to applause.

He added that many agritourism and ecotourism attractions are thriving because “VISIT FLORIDA was there to help give them a leg up.”

The House voted last week to rein in VISIT FLORIDA, a public-private partnership largely funded with taxpayers’ dollars. It acts as the state’s tourism marketing agency, subsidizing advertising and PR for the industry.

The House wants to subject it to stricter oversight and reduce its budget. Republican Speaker Richard Corcoran took aim after the agency was embroiled in controversy after striking a secret deal, later revealed to be worth as much as $1 million, for Miami rap star Pitbull to promote the state through song, video and social media.

The House also passed a bill last week to abolish the Enterprise Florida economic development organization and a host of business incentive programs.

The Senate, however, generally backs business incentives and tourism subsidies, suggesting the House effort won’t find traction there.

Supporters said the agency gave their marketing boost that they couldn’t alone achieve with their smaller budgets. Putnam urged lawmakers to stay the course, and continue to promote the state.

“As Lawton Chiles used to say, it’s a poor frog that won’t croak in his own pond,” he said.

Scott later told reporters VISIT FLORIDA “is important for jobs in our state. And people care about jobs.”

When asked if he would veto a budget that cut money for the organization, he added, “I never talk about what I’ll do at the end of a (legislative) session.”

“… I can tell you this: I’m going to fight every day for VISIT FLORIDA because it’s about people’s jobs. Look, it’s about families.”

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Rick Scott stumps for economic development, tourism dollars in Tallahassee

Proponents of keeping Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA have been repeating the talking point that even Coca-Cola, king of market share, still advertises.

And so on Monday, Gov. Rick Scott kept driving home his counter-frame to House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s “corporate welfare” narrative that killing the state’s economic development organization and tourism marketing agency will kill jobs.

“Here in Tallahassee, we need to diversify the economy, we need to get more tourism, we need to get more manufacturing companies,” he said, at a business roundtable at the Danfoss Turbocor Compressors plant.

“It’s not going to happen if they shut down Enterprise Florida and if they decimate VISIT FLORIDA, so I’m going to be working every day, traveling the state fighting for jobs. This about making sure every family in this state doesn’t have the struggles mine did when I growing up.”

Scott is barnstorming against last week’s 87-28 House vote to kill Enterprise Florida and its 80-35 vote to rein in VISIT FLORIDA, both public-private partnerships that are overwhelmingly funded with taxpayers’ dollars.

But the legislation is likely to find far from a warm reception in the Senate, whose leadership generally backs business incentives and tourism subsidies. That fact didn’t daunt Scott’s enthusiasm to keep up the political battle.

When asked if he were still confident that the Senate was still on his side, Scott said, “everybody should be on our side because it’s about families’ jobs. So I’m optimistic, but look, I’m going to fight for jobs.”

At the event, he kept up the praising of those who voted against the legislation and the public shaming of those who sided with House leadership. That put him in the unusual position of giving attaboys to Tallahassee’s two Democratic lawmakers, Loranne Ausley and Ramon Alexander, and vilifying Republican Halsey Beshears of Monticello, who voted for the bills.

“I don’t how he could this,” Scott said of Beshears, as he was flanked by Enterprise Florida interim CEO Mike Grissom, VISIT FLORIDA CEO Ken Lawson and Department of Economic Opportunity director Cissy Proctor. “How do you vote against basic job creation?”

Scott also was asked about Senate proposals to tighten oversight and increase transparency of the agencies.

“There’s always things you can do better, but what you don’t do is shut it down,” Scott said.

The disagreement began when Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, threatened to sue VISIT FLORIDA last year it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism. The rapper eventually disclosed the deal himself, revealing he was set to be paid up to $1 million. This session’s bills followed suit.

Scott’s offensive continues Tuesday with a “Fighting for Florida Jobs Tourism Rally” at the Capitol.

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DEP responds to House records request, defends payment of legal bills

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection on Friday night released its response to the House of Representatives’ request for documentation of the legal billing in a longstanding river water use fight against Georgia.

Interim DEP Secretary Ryan Matthews also sent a letter, saying his agency had “denied more than $3 million in expenses and hourly charges submitted by outside counsel.”

A cursory review of the records shows not only invoices for legal fees but also, for example, a $272,000 contract between DEP and the University of South Florida for oyster reef research. Another file showed a Nebraska company was paid $49,000 for “video production in support of (the) litigation.”

The 16-year long court fight centers around upstream water use from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. They meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which empties into the Apalachicola Bay, on which oystermen have depended for decades for their catch.

The department had planned to ask lawmakers for an additional $13 million to pay ongoing legal bills from the still-unresolved case.

The litigation already has cost the state tens of millions of dollars, and a federal court official last month ruled in favor of Georgia by recommending against tough water consumption limits on the Peach State.

Meantime, House Speaker Richard Corcoran said his chamber wouldn’t entertain any more funding for the lawyers without a detailed audit of how DEP officials spent legal money already appropriated.

The speaker also was perturbed when former Secretary Jon Steverson quit for a job at the Foley & Lardner law firm, one of the outside law firms he approved payment to.

Corcoran tasked state Reps. Dan Raulerson, a Plant City Republican, and David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, with looking into the billing from outside law firms. Both men are CPAs.

Interim DEP Secretary Ryan Matthews provided House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum with the records and the letter. (The records are available via this link.)

“For 26 years and under five administrations, Florida has been fighting for its fair share of water due to Georgia’s reckless water use,” Matthews said. “Our fight is to protect our communities, marine fisheries and the vital economic impact of Apalachicola Bay which supports thousands of jobs.

“Based on (the) Latham Watkins (law firm’s) expertise, the Attorney General’s Office retained them on this case and I want to thank Attorney General Pam Bondi and her team for fighting for families in Apalachicola Bay,” he added.

“As evident in the records, DEP staff carefully reviews every invoice to verify that the expenses comply with the terms of the contract with outside counsel and Florida law,” Matthews said.

“In instances where outside counsel does not comply, the expenses are denied,” he said. “In fact, since July 2015, DEP has denied more than $3 million in expenses and hourly charges submitted by outside counsel retained on this case.

“Our scrutiny of expenses also ensures compliance with Florida’s per diem and travel policies as defined in law. DEP also carefully analyzed all hourly charges to ensure they were in compliance with the contract and rejects all charges that are not previously authorized or do not fall within the contracted terms.

“DEP will fight for families and the thousands of jobs at risk in Apalachicola Bay and we are optimistic we will prevail.”

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Rick Scott says ACA replacement is a work in progress

Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that he thinks Florida would be treated unfairly under the current version of congressional Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill.

Scott did not tell reporters he opposed the bill after meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Washington, D.C., though he did say the repeal bill needs to be fair for states like Florida, which did not expand Medicaid. He also said the bill needs to give autonomy to run their own Medicaid programs.

States like Florida which didn’t expand can’t get treated unfairly,” he said. He also called the current plan “a work in progress.”

The newly unveiled proposal would allow states that expanded Medicaid to keep their extra federal funds for the next few years until the program phases out in 2020. The bill would also tie Medicaid funding to the number of enrollees in each state.

States that did not expand Medicaid would get an extra $10 billion over the next five years under the bill and would also have spending cuts for safety net hospitals lifted in 2018, 2 years ahead of Medicaid expansion states.

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Jose Oliva talks doughnuts and incentives after Rick Scott speech

House Republican leaders defended their assault on Gov. Rick Scott‘s economic development and incentive plans, saying success in business shouldn’t depend on a government handout.

Oliva

Speaker Richard Corcoran and state Rep. Jose Oliva, slated to be speaker in 2018-20, spoke with reporters Tuesday after Scott’s State of the State address before a joint session of the House and Senate.

Florida, like other states, incentivizes businesses to move or expand here through a variety of tax breaks and public-paid subsidies. Scott, a proponent, says spending public dollars on private companies is worth it for the jobs he says they create.

“I will admit it is probably more difficult for people who have never gone hungry, or gone through foreclosure, or seen their family car repossessed, to understand this,” Scott said in his speech.

“If you have never lived through these experiences, it may be harder to understand the urgency,” Scott added. “I am fighting for our state’s job programs because I am fighting for families just like mine growing up.”

Oliva, a cigar company executive, said Scott underestimated House members’ experience.

“Very many of us in that chamber know what it’s like to be poor,” said Oliva, who remains as CEO of Oliva Cigar Co. after selling the company last year to a European concern. “We know what it’s like to have a car repossessed, to have the power cut in your house.

“We also know what it’s like to start a business,” he added. “I don’t know that when I was building my business I would have liked some of my tax dollars to go to help a competitor.”

Scott, who didn’t mention it specifically in his Tuesday speech, often has spoken of a doughnut shop he ran in the 1970s.

“Imagine if the governor, while he had that same doughnut shop, had his tax dollars go to Dunkin’ Donuts so they could come across the street and compete against him?” Oliva said.

Corcoran suggested that Scott doesn’t get the “optimism” of his legislative program.

“We’re saying what makes our country different is when anybody can engage in spirited, civil debate,” he said. “… Yeah, there’s passion and back-and-forth and sometimes quotes you want to take back. At the end of the day, … good things happen.”

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Rick Scott gets personal in 2017 ‘State of The State’ address

In what was his most personally felt State of the State speech so far, Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday delivered an impassioned plea for Florida’s economic development organization and business incentives targeted for elimination by the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is seeking to abolish Enterprise Florida and other financial programs he has termed “corporate welfare.” Though the Senate is not backing the House’s moves, Scott fought back, criticizing the negative narrative.

The governor, who once ran the privately-held Columbia/HCA hospital and health care chain, told a joint session of the state’s House and Senate that he knew “what it’s like to be poor.”

“I have lived in poverty,” said Scott, repeating his rags-to-riches story. “I watched my parents struggle to put food on the table. When most kids were playing Little League or riding bikes, I had a job … I went from delivering papers, to opening a small business so my mom could have a job, to running the nation’s largest health care company.”

Tuesday’s speech opening the 2017 Legislative Session is Scott’s second-to-last State of the State address. With less than two years left in office, the governor is beginning to eye his legacy.

“It’s easy to throw out catch phrases like ‘picking winners and losers’ and ‘corporate welfare,’ ” he said. “(T)hat’s not what we are doing. We are competing with 49 other states and hundreds of countries for jobs. When we bring new jobs to Florida, there are only winners.

“… I will admit it is probably more difficult for people who have never gone hungry, or gone through foreclosure, or seen their family car repossessed, to understand this,” Scott said.

“If you have never lived through these experiences, it may be harder to understand the urgency. I will just leave it like this: I am fighting for our state’s job programs because I am fighting for families just like mine growing up.”

The governor still had time for moments of levity, however, as when he greeted the state’s Supreme Court justices: “You look great in your robes, by the way,” he said, mentioning his appointed of the court’s newest member, C. Alan Lawson.

He also said he and wife Ann were expecting twin grandchildren soon, making six since he took office, then joked that his daughter must have taken his slogan literally: “Let’s get to work.”

Scott also took a moment to thank former Senate President and current state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater for his service. Atwater is resigning at the end of the legislative session to take a similar position with Florida Atlantic University.

He took note of last year’s Pulse nightclub shooting, thanking Orlando Police Chief John Mina and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings for the law enforcement response, singling out SWAT officer Michael Napolitano, whose Kevlar helmet stopped a bullet to his head.

Napolitano and fellow officers demonstrate “the courage to serve in the face of evil,” Scott said.

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2017 Legislative Session preview: Oscar Braynon on juvenile justice, incentives and Chance the Rapper

This is the first legislative session that South Florida’s Oscar Braynon II will be the Senate’s Democratic Leader.

The 40-year-old, who succeeded term-limited former Leader Arthenia Joyner, was first elected in 2011 after serving in the House and on the Miami Gardens City Council before that.

Though he’s in the minority, Braynon has high hopes for legislative breakthroughs with the GOP majority under President Joe Negron. “We have a good personal relationship and we’ve helped each other before we were in leadership,” Braynon says.

That said, one issue he’s already behind on is “decoupling,” in which the state would no longer require dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as slots or cards. The House supports it this year; the Senate does not.

Braynon’s in favor because it would allow his district’s Calder Race Track, which he said he lives “around the corner from,” to sell its racetrack land to developers for much-needed retail, restaurants and a movie theater.

The city of 112,000 has no movie theater, one sit-down restaurant and little retail shopping, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III recently told lawmakers.

But Braynon may have better luck on initiatives like juvenile civil citations, which gives “first-time misdemeanor offenders the opportunity to participate in intervention services at the earliest stage of delinquency,” according to the Department of Juvenile Justice. A bill now being carried by Anitere Flores, Negron’s right hand as President Pro Tempore, would expand their use.

Braynon gave a pre-session interview with FloridaPolitics.com last week. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.  

Q: What are you hoping to get accomplished this year?

A: I’m looking to some serious reform in our civil and criminal justice system. I think both sides of the aisle have come to the conclusion that minimum mandatory (sentences), putting juveniles in jail for minor crimes, keeping people locked up for drug offenses, those things put a strain on our budget. Also it puts a strain on our communities. We should look more into treatment for drug issues, economic development for communities like mine, where people think that dealing illegal drugs is the only way out (of poverty). If they can get a real job, they can have hope. I’ll be looking at that not just this year, but my two years as leader. And I think I have a willing partner in the Senate President.

Q: On the other hand, what are you hoping the Legislature avoids acting on?

A: I hope we avoid some of the repeats of what we did or tried to do in terms of tax cuts and cutting services … I think the fewer services you provide is not investing in the biggest and best resource of the state, its people. When you don’t invest in education, health care, mental health, the aged, DCF, the weakest among us, then you starve the infrastructure that is our way to get our state considered a premier state. Our mistake was we cut government and then on the other end we cut taxes for corporations, saying this is how we’re going to ‘save’ Florida. Look at us now. We’re looking at projections where we may be in another (budget) deficit. I call it crazy, because if it doesn’t work, why do it again?

Q: Which initiative gives you the most confidence to get done this year?

A: The civil citations bill, now pushed by Sen. Flores, is something our caucus has pushed for a long time. For the president pro tem to have it, that shows us being together on that issue of creating more juvenile civil citations statewide. I believe the concern on the other side has been being seen as ‘weak on crime.’ They think you’re not allowing children to be accountable for whatever (bad) things they did. But I don’t want to give them a mark for the rest of their lives.

Q: How do you think the current conflict between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran—who are warring over Enterprise Florida (EFI), VISIT FLORIDA and business incentives—will affect this session?

A: (Laughs.) It’s not any different from previous years. It’s the same thing. Whether you take the money from (business in the form of taxes) or you give them so money back, it’s semantics. Whether you call them tax cuts or incentives, it’s a ridiculous argument. Look, businesses are doing well in Florida. We have a business-friendly environment. But we’re ranked low in mental health, education. I’m more than happy to watch them fight it out … And they all are going to fight, not just about this, but a whole number of things. Wait till we get to the budget, and who controls the process. It should not be up to the House. Then there’s land buying, and judicial term limits. The list is long. You could solve the EFI thing tomorrow and they’ll have seven other things they’ll disagree on. I do believe VISIT FLORIDA plays a role, but they could be more lean and transparent. As to incentives, I’m still waiting for someone to fully explain to me why they are really so necessary.

Q: Have you heard from Chance the Rapper yet? (Braynon supported a bill for Florida’s smaller craft brewers because it would help start-ups, likening them to the Chicago-based artist who rose to fame after distributing his own songs without a music label.)

A: No! I did not get a follow yet (from the rapper on Twitter).

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