Florida man involved in gun rights case arrested for murder

A tangled Florida Panhandle case involving a sheriff, accusations of misconduct and an argument over gun rights has taken a new twist: a homicide.

State authorities announced Monday that they had arrested Floyd Eugene Parrish on a second-degree murder charge. The 61-year-old Bristol resident is accused of shooting James Lester Nesmith just before midnight on Saturday. Parrish remains in jail, but his attorney, Ryan Andrews, contends that his client shot in self-defense and said it “smells like a political arrest.”

Parrish was one of the central figures three years ago in an incident that triggered an unsuccessful corruption probe against Liberty County Sheriff Nick Finch. Parrish was arrested in early 2013 by one of Finch’s deputies during a traffic stop for carrying a pistol in his pocket without a concealed weapons permit. Two hours later, Finch arrived at the jail and had Parrish released.

Finch said at the time he released Parrish because he did not believe state gun laws should trump the Second Amendment. He also insisted that it made little sense to charge Parrish since so many people in the small rural county routinely carry guns in their cars and trucks.

But the sheriff was charged by state prosecutors with official misconduct and destroying public records. During Finch’s trial, prosecutors contended that Finch actually released Parrish as a favor to his family for their political support during the 2012 sheriff’s race.

Gov. Rick Scott suspended Finch after he was arrested, but the Republican governor came under criticism from gun rights advocates. Scott reinstated Finch after a jury quickly acquitted him of all charges in October 2013.

Finch said Monday that his decision to release Parrish back then had nothing to do with the murder charges now pending against Parrish.

“I made the decision three-and-a-half years ago and I stand by the decision I made,” said Finch, who is up for re-election this fall. “I stand by the decision I made. It has no bearing on this case. There’s no way three-and-a-half years ago I could have predicted what would happen in the future.”

Parrish was arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. An FDLE news release states that the 53-year-old Nesmith was visiting Parrish at his house when the two began arguing and the shooting occurred.

But Andrews maintained that Parrish was defending both himself and his wife and should have been shielded from arrest under Florida’s stand your ground law. That 2005 law also expanded the state’s “Castle doctrine,” regarding the right of someone to defend themselves when they are attacked in their own home.

“This is a classic law book stand your ground case,” Andrews said, adding that the fact that FDLE handled the arrest showed that “this is purely political…This smells like a political arrest on text book stand your ground facts, and pure FDLE payback.

FDLE was involved in Finch’s arrest back in 2013. But Finch said Monday that it’s routine to ask state authorities to handle murder cases because his agency is so small. He said this is only the second murder case to happen in the nearly four years he’s been in office.

“We’re close to Tallahassee and we’ve got a good working relationship with them,” Finch said.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Florida primaries eyed: Representation of few, or the many?

It took just 14,496 votes to win his closed Democratic primary for one of Florida’s 27 congressional seats. Now Darren Soto is virtually assured of going to Capitol Hill, unlikely to face a strong Republican challenge this November in his safely Democratic district.

The state senator snared the votes of just 2 percent of the Orlando area district’s 750,000 residents, beating three other candidates in last month’s closed-party, winner-takes-all primary. Only registered Democrats could cast ballots in Soto’s race and the small percentage of them likely decided the contest before the general election.

It’s a scenario repeated regularly in Florida’s state and congressional races in districts firmly controlled by one or the other of the two major parties. Now such outcomes are prompting calls to reform Florida’s primary system so more voters have a say in who represents them.

“That’s a question that comes up often,” said Pamela Goodman, president of the Florida League of Women Voters. Her group is studying the primary system and will make recommendations next year to lawmakers on broadening the electoral process.

Florida is one of only nine states with a strict closed primary system, which prevents independent and minor party voters from casting primary ballots. Proponents say political parties should have the sole say in who they nominate, but critics say closed primaries exclude a large swath of voters, particularly as the number of independent voters grows.

Until 16 years ago, Florida primaries weren’t even over until a candidate won a ballot majority. If no primary candidate received at least 50 percent plus one vote, the top two met in a runoff to decide who reached the general election.

But then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush eliminated the runoff in 2002, a year he was seeking re-election and two years after his brother George W. Bush carried the perennial swing state by 537 votes in a famously chaotic presidential election. Jettisoning the primary runoff was part of reforms aimed at making Florida elections run more smoothly.

The impact on Sunshine State politics was immediate.

In 2002, political newcomer Bill McBride won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination over former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno by 0.4 percentage points in a three-way race. Many believe Reno would have defeated McBride in a runoff and gone on to face Bush. And in 2010, now Gov. Rick Scott won the Republican nomination with only 46 percent of the vote though a runoff could have overturned the results.

And this year, state Rep. Matt Gaetz is a lock to represent northwest Florida in Congress after capturing just 36 percent of the vote in a seven-way Republican primary, meaning 64 percent of voters wanted someone else in Washington from their firmly GOP district. It’s a decision that essentially excludes Democrats and independents.

It was a runoff that helped primary runner-up Bob Graham into the governor’s office in 1979.

Eventually a three-term U.S. senator, Graham avidly supports resurrecting the runoff primary. He said the current system often encourages election of the most extreme candidates among both major parties. He said primary reforms could make representation more moderate, in line with the views of most voters.

“The question ought to be not whose convenience are we serving, but what makes democracy work best and gives the people the opportunity to have persons in office who represent the broadest consensus,” said Graham, who now runs a University of Florida center for greater citizen engagement with government.

Only 11 states still have some form of a runoff primary, mostly in the Deep South. Louisiana, California and Washington state have all-inclusive primaries where the top two vote earners advance to the general election, 15 states have open primaries and nine states allow independent voters to choose which primary they’ll vote in.

People are increasingly open to changing primary systems because they don’t like current options that contribute to partisan extremes in Washington, said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a non-partisan Washington-area group that seeks to make voting more representative.

“There are different approaches that make sense for different states. There’s more openness in the reform world to not have a one-size fits all model,” he said.

Ion Sancho, elections supervisor in Leon County that includes Florida’s capital of Tallahassee, was first elected in 1988 aided by a primary runoff.

He agreed more voters should have a say in who’s elected, but isn’t espousing a return of the second primary. Instead, he said all candidates should be put on a primary ballot regardless of party and all registered voters, including independents, should be allowed to vote. The top two candidates would face off in November.

That notion doesn’t appeal to Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell, who chairs the House committee that considers election issues. He prefers the idea of voters picking their first two choices in a crowded primary. If no candidate wins a majority, then the second choice of voters are weighed to determine a winner.

Changing Florida’s primary system would require legislative action or a change in the state constitution through a ballot initiative.

“I’m not afraid to try to tinker with it,” Caldwell said.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Rick Scott names Chandra Hosler to the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board

Governor Rick Scott announced Friday the appointment of Chandra Hosler to the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board.

Hosler, 41, of Land O’ Lakes, is an in house legal counsel and director of legal affairs for Mid-Atlantic Finance Co., Inc. She received a law degree from the University of Tulsa, College of Law and is appointed to fill a vacant seat for a term beginning September 23, 2016 and ending July 2, 2017.

The Hillsborough County Civil Service Board sets workplace rules for local government employees. Like other agencies such as the Public Transportation Commission, it is unique in comparison to the rest of the state, as it was created by a special act of the Legislature in 1955.

Starting in 2013, several heads of different government agencies in the county – like Doug Belden with the tax collector and Pat Frank with the clerk of the court, opted out of having to use Civil Service board rules and services.

 

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Gwen Graham wants a simple answer: When did the Florida DEP inform residents of the Mosaic spill?

Gwen Graham isn’t backing off in her quest to learn how proactive the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was in informing the public about the 45-foot-wide, 300-foot deep sinkhole which opened at Mosaic’s New Wales plant in Mulberry on August 27, emptying 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan Aquifer.

The Tallahassee-based Congresswoman on Friday issued a public information request to the DEP to turn over all electronic communication relating to the toxic sinkhole, following what she says has been “repeated requests” for more information on when DEP informed the public of the sinkhole and called for the department to conduct an investigation into their delayed response.

“Our office has repeatedly asked the Department of Environmental Protection when exactly they began to notify the public of the 300-foot-deep toxic sinkhole in Central Florida, and they have not yet answered this simple question,” Representative Graham said. “I’m hopeful this public records request will show the date on which the department notified the public of the sinkhole and why they made the decision to keep it secret for so long.”

Although Mosaic said it immediately contacted the DEP about the spill last month, nearby residents concerned that about the potential contamination of their drinking water say they were not contacted, and only learned about the spill when it was reported last Friday.

The New Wales facility produces fertilizer and ingredients for animal feed from phosphate rock.

“The health and safety of Florida’s families is no laughing matter. A giant toxic sinkhole is no laughing matter. Government transparency is no laughing matter,” Graham said. “I expect this request to turn over a large amount of communication regarding the sinkhole — if not, the DEP isn’t taking this issue seriously, or the administration is again trying to skirt our state’s Sunshine Laws.”

Mosaic and the DEP’s transparency regarding the spill has become a national story in the past week. On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton told Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS, “For goodness sake, people are entitled to clean water. People are entitled to know what is in their water and companies that profit off of common resources need to be held liable when something goes wrong. So I have a very clear view about this. Polluters should pay to help clean up the messes that they have created.”

And now Marco Rubio has joined with Graham in criticizing the DEP. In a statement given to the Tampa Bay Times, the Florida GOP Senator says,”There’s no question that residents should have been informed sooner. I understand that Mosaic is working closely with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to monitor and mitigate water that has leaked into the aquifer.”

The DEP responded on Thursday that Governor Rick Scott had directed the agency to expedite its investigation into the spill. The DEP says it is accelerating all water-quality tests to ensure safe drinking water for residents. Scott has also directed the Department of Health to partner with the DEP to ensure that the drinking water is safe.

The DEP also issued a detailed timeline on Thursday on their course of action since learning about the spill on August 28.

Meanwhile, three Florida residents have filed a lawsuit against Mosaic that seeks to hold the phosphate giants responsible for potential contamination of their drinking water wells.

DEP Secretary Jon Steverson responded later Friday to Graham’s request:

“As is the case with all public records requests, DEP will expeditiously process this request and provide the responsive records. DEP has been in communication with Representative Gwen Graham’s office throughout the week and has provided information as requested without hesitation.

“Contrary to the Representative’s claim that we have not answered her question, DEP yesterday released a detailed timeline of all of the agency’s actions including that beginning on Sept. 19, in coordination with Mosaic, DEP began reaching out to nearby homeowners for well testing.

“It is important to know that Deputy Secretary Gary Clark is over the department’s Land and Recreation functions and does not, in any way, oversee the department’s regulatory functions, especially in regard to water quality. DEP is absolutely committed to the safety of all Floridians and our environment, and our staff was on-site to investigate the issues at Mosaic’s New Wales facility less than 24 hours after being notified.

“Following Governor Scott’s call to expedite our investigation, we will hold all responsible parties accountable. To keep the public informed of the latest response activities and most recent monitoring data, DEP will continue to issue daily updates on this issue.”

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Jack Latvala: Water quality is a business issue

Environmentalists shouldn’t be the only ones sounding the alarm when it comes to Florida’s water quality concerns.

Instead, Sen. Jack Latvala said all of the state’s stakeholders need to work together to address the issues affecting Florida’s water.

“It’s not just (environmentalists). It’s not just the white hats with petitions and protests,” said Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and the incoming chairman of the Senate appropriations committee. “These are business issues. If we allow those (resources) to be desecrated in any way … that’s not going to help keep people coming to Florida, whether it’s as tourists or whether it’s as residents. Everyone needs to be invested.”

Latvala gave the business community and environmental experts a peek into the 2017-18 budget process during the 2016 Florida Water Forum with hosted by Associated Industries of Florida. The annual event is a chance for elected officials, the business community and other policy leaders to come together to discuss ongoing water issues.

The most recent estimates from leave Florida with about $7.5 million leftover out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue in 2017-18. And while lawmakers have stressed there isn’t’ a revenue shortage, recent estimates don’t leave a lot of wiggle room for those hoping to get projects funded.

But Latvala said he expects lawmakers will advocate for projects to improve Florida’s water quality. And Senate President Designate Joe Negron has already said water will be a top priority during his two-year term.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, has said he plans to push for money to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee. His $2.4 billion plan includes buying 60,000 acres to build a reservoir to clean and send water into the Everglades, instead of down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

His proposal included bonding $100 million over 20 years to generate the state’s $1.2 billion share. Under his plan, the remaining costs would be picked up by the federal government.

Latvala said Negron talked to him about the proposal before going public, and said he expects it will be a “multi-faceted program” that would also include efforts to move residents off septic systems.

Gov. Rick Scott has already said he would include money in his proposed budget to help encourage residents near the Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee River to switch from septic.

“We have to have water that’s drinkable and water that doesn’t smell bad I we want to have tourists keep coming in and funding our budget,” said Latvala.

But water quality issues in the Indian River Lagoon — where algae clogged the waterways and temporarily close South Florida beaches — aren’t the only concerns. He pointed to a recent sewage spill in Tampa Bay, where more than 250 million gallons of sewage flowed into the bay.

“I can’t think of a time in history since I’ve been involved in the Senate that we’ve had so many crisis effecting water as we have today,” he said.

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Rick Scott to put $25M toward developing Zika vaccine

Gov. Rick Scott, lamenting federal inaction on the Zika virus, has earmarked $25 million in state money for vaccine research.

“I have traveled multiple times to Washington this year to meet with congressional leaders to tell them how urgent this need is. Yet, despite endless claims of support from those within both parties, nothing has been done,” Scott said in a written statement.

“Every minute that passes that Congress doesn’t approve funding means more time is lost from researching this virus. For the sake of our state’s future children, this is time we cannot afford to waste.”

The move brought state spending on Zika to $61.2 million. Earlier, Scott used his emergency authority to pump state money into preparedness efforts.

The state Department of Health will oversee a competitive grant process to expedite development of a Zika vaccine and new testing methods, the governor’s office said.

“I look forward to seeing research partners across Florida come together to help combat the Zika virus and ensure our state is safe,” Scott said.

The governor announced the initiative Thursday. Earlier in the day, in an op-ed in USA Today, the governor blasted the federal government for its “incompetence” in the fight against Zika.

“This $25 million is a step forward for research and development in order to find a vaccine, but we still need the federal government to do their part to fully fund this mission,” Scott said.

“While I hope the federal government will recognize the dire importance of developing a vaccine and immediately pass funding, we will continue to allocate every available resource from the state. I look forward to seeing research partners across Florida come together to help combat the Zika virus and ensure our state is safe.”

Scott said his office would release more details about the vaccine program “in the coming days.”

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Water quality challenges focus of AIF Florida Water Forum

Moving residents off septic systems should be included in efforts to clean up the Indian River Lagoon, experts said Thursday.

Experts said wastewater run-off and septic systems play a role in the algae blooms that have plagued South Florida in recent years. And while it is just part of the problem, one expert said money may be better spent focusing on septic systems instead of buying land south of Lake Okeechobee.

“I don’t see that buying land south of the lake is going to have a big effect in the wet season,” said Brian Lapointe, a research professor with Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Beach Oceanographic Institute. “I think it’s very clear that every septic tank that gets connected to sewer is going to make a measurable improvement in quality.”

Lapointe made his comments during the 2016 Florida Water Forum hosted by Associated Industries of Florida. The annual event is a chance for elected officials, the business community and other policy leaders to come together to discuss ongoing water issues.

The 2016 forum comes as state and local leaders are trying to deal with the effects from Lake Okeechobee discharges. The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers earlier this year, after a wetter than normal January.

That wet weather continued for several months, marking the “wettest dry season on record,” said Rich Budell, the managing partner of Budell Water Group and the former director of the Office of Agriculture Water Policy with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The discharges have been blamed, at least in part, for toxic algae blooms that clogged waterways and temporarily closed South Florida beaches.

But a failure to invest in moving to sewer could also be part of the problem. And when posed with the question of how they would spend $1 to improve water quality in the lagoon, buying land didn’t make the list.

Dealing with septic and local storm water run-of, as well as moving forward with the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, is key to addressing water quality concerns the southern part of the Indian River Lagoon, said Drew Bartlett, the deputy secretary for ecosystem restoration at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Addressing wastewater is key in the northern part of the system, as will be creating a large stormwater feature in Brevard and Indian River County, said Bartlett.

Lapointe also said stakeholders need to start looking at wastewater treatment programs.

State lawmakers will likely tackle several of these issues during the 2017 legislative session.

Gov. Rick Scott in July said he would include money in his budget to help clean up the Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee River. That money, Scott said, could be used to encourage residents to switch from septic tanks.

And the Indian River Lagoon is a top priority for Senate President Designate Joe Negron, who has made cleaning up the water a top priority during his presidency. Negron, a Stuart Republican, said last month he’ll push for state dollars to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee.

AIF’s 2016 Florida Water Forum continues through Friday at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando.

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Joe Henderson: St. Pete’s stinky mess, sewage and politics

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is angry — MAD, I tell you! — that Gov. Rick Scott is playing politics just because the city’s streets and waterways were covered in sewage following Hurricane Hermine.

Um, Mr. Mayor?

I suspect you already know this, but you have a lot bigger problems than the Republican governor of the state turning a major mess in the city controlled by a Democratic mayor (that’s you, sir) into political capital.

Of course, politics will be involved, and Scott did what politicians do when he quite properly ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection to investigate just how badly St. Petersburg screwed this thing up. It was political, too, when Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly asked for federal intervention into the matter.

Jolly’s move is a bit snarky. Like Charlie Crist, his opponent for the CD 13 seat in November, pointed out in their debate Monday, where was Jolly when the streets started looking and smelling bad? Jolly said he wasn’t asked to get involved.

Bad answer.

But Scott’s moves, while political, also are things the governor should be doing. He ought to be turning up the heat to broiling. That includes his order for the state health department to test whether some beaches and water for lingering effects of the sewage flood that turned parts of a lovely city into a stinky mess.

That prompted this rebuttal from Kriseman:

“The Department of Environmental Protection is already involved in this issue, and given that the governor is singling out St. Petersburg and ignoring the actions of governments across our region, we have to chalk this up to politics,” he said in a statement released by his office.

Actually, the governor said spills in other parts of the area are being investigated as well. But unless there is some information that has yet to become public, none of those other places had a blunt warning two years ago to expect this result if a big storm hit.

That is what a city-commissioned study predicted in 2014 after officials shut down the Albert Whitted treatment plant to save money. Kriseman said he never saw that report and apparently neither did city council members, but everyone knows about it now after an official in the wastewater department produced it last week.

That official promptly asked for whistleblower protection, which is an indication of how volatile this report is. Kriseman has already suspended two major leaders the wastewater department, and we’ll all be surprised if there isn’t a top-to-bottom overhaul there.

Well and good.

St. Petersburg follows the strong mayor form of government, which essentially means Kriseman is the CEO and oversees the city’s day-to-day operations.

When something like this happens, the buck naturally is going to stop at his desk, and there will be fallout from the political opposition. Kriseman’s better response for Scott’s decree would be to welcome the DEP investigators, the health department, and any other agencies who show up at his door.

Sure, they’re coming for his scalp. Welcome them anyway. They will write scathing reports about how badly things got bungled here. The public already knows this, so the mayor should just swallow the medicine coming his way and do whatever it takes — beg, borrow, whatever — to make sure this never happens again.

In the meantime, consider this. Upgrading the city’s water treatment system to handle a storm like Hermine, or worse, could take a couple of years. Hold your breath.

Or at least your nose.

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Marco Rubio latest lawmaker to call for the EPA to investigate St. Petersburg sewage issue

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is the most latest Florida lawmaker calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate St. Petersburg’s sewage crisis.

“It is important that residents know if their City leadership turned a blind eye towards the inevitability of a sewage spill at the cost of the local waterways and beaches,” Rubio writes in a letter penned to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “I welcome the EPA’s immediate assistance into this matter, and stand ready to work with you to fix these problems.”

The aftermath of the result of more than 150 million gallons of partially treated sewage and wastewater that was discharged into Boca Ceiga Bay and Tampa Bay from Hurricane Hermine has become a huge political issue for Mayor Rick Kriseman and his administration in the past week. Rubio’s entreaty to the EPA is following similar requests made by Tampa Bay area Congress members David Jolly and Kathy Castor. On Wednesday, Governor Rick Scott  ordered the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to investigate.

In his letter, Rubio references the comments made last week by Craven R. Askew, the chief plant operator at St. Petersburg’s Northeast wastewater treatment facility, who told city officials that a consultant’s report from 2014 stated that that sewage dumps and spills were possible if the city shut down the Albert Whitted sewer plant, which happened in 2015.

Kriseman says he never saw the report, and has called for an investigation to determine why.

On Wednesday, the mayor put two top city wastewater officials who were involved in the closure of the Albert Whitted plant on unpaid leave. One of them, engineering director Tom Gibson, signed the task order for that consultant’s report, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Thursday.

Rubio, a Republican running for re-election to the U.S. Senate this November against Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy, also questions the transparency of the Kriseman administration in his letter.

“It is troubling that the City itself cannot agree on what was contained in the sewage released, and this begs the question of whether this was a factor in City officials’ decision not to tell the public about the release until five days after it occurred,” Rubio writes. In fact, a whistleblower, Mr. Craven Askew, claims the City was aware a sewage spill could happen and did nothing to halt the release.  It is my understanding that previous spills in 2015 and 2016 were conveyed by consultants to the City as early as 2014, and that City leadership chose not to act and instead moved forward with closing the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility even after being advised against it.  It is important that residents know if their City leadership turned a blind eye towards the inevitability of a sewage spill at the cost of the local waterways and beaches.”

The full text of Rubio’s letter can be read below:

The Honorable Gina McCarthy

Administrator

Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20460

September 21, 2016

Dear Administrator McCarthy,

As Hurricane Hermine moved through the Tampa Bay region, it left in its wake an environmental issue that appears to have been wholly preventable and, as recently reported in a whistleblower complaint, should have been foreseen and dealt with a number of years ago.  Although the State of Florida is currently investigating the situation, I request the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assist the State of Florida in assessing this spill brought on by the City of St. Petersburg.

According to recent reports, the City of St. Petersburg released about 151 million gallons of raw and partially-treated sewage into Tampa and Boca Ciega Bays.  The exact amount of the release is actually unknown due to a broken flow meter out of the wastewater treatment plant.  The sewage release occurred after the City’s wastewater treatment plants were overwhelmed during Hurricane Hermine, a result of the City’s decision to close one of its plants in 2015.  I believe the residents of Pinellas County deserve to know what, and how much, was released into their waterways and how it may affect the water quality in the area.

It is troubling that the City itself cannot agree on what was contained in the sewage released, and this begs the question of whether this was a factor in City officials’ decision not to tell the public about the release until five days after it occurred.  In fact, a whistleblower, Mr. Craven Askew, claims the City was aware a sewage spill could happen and did nothing to halt the release.  It is my understanding that previous spills in 2015 and 2016 were conveyed by consultants to the City as early as 2014, and that City leadership chose not to act and instead moved forward with closing the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility even after being advised against it.  It is important that residents know if their City leadership turned a blind eye towards the inevitability of a sewage spill at the cost of the local waterways and beaches.

Tampa Bay’s waters are a cherished and economically fruitful ecosystem.  I am concerned its rebounded sea grasses will suffer now and into the future, especially because we are not yet done with the current hurricane season and another storm could yield another disturbing spillage.  For these reasons, I welcome the EPA’s immediate assistance into this matter, and stand ready to work with you to fix these problems.

Respectfully,

Marco Rubio

U.S. Senator

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Report: Rick Scott reassigns case involving Keith Perry

Gov. Rick Scott has assigned a new State Attorney to a battery and trespassing case involving Rep. Keith Perry.

Scott issued an executive order Tuesday, reassigning the case to the State Attorney for the 7th Judicial Circuit. The decision, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, comes about a week after the victim withdrew his complaint with Gainesville police.

According to police reports, Perry struck a man on the side of his face after a dispute over a yard sign. Surveillance video released by the Gainesville Police Department showed Perry and a man, identified by police as 46-year-old Norman Leppla, were involved in a verbal disagreement before the incident. Surveillance video also showed Leppla bumping Perry.

Perry apologized for the incident, and Leppla withdrew his complaint on Sept. 15. The Gainesville Police Department had already referred the case to the State Attorney’s Office, and said it would forward the complaint withdrawal to prosecutors.

According to the executive order, State Attorney William Cervone notified Scott of the compliant, and informed him it involved a member of the Florida House and a state Senate candidate. Cervone also informed Scott that he has “publicly endorsed Representative Perry’s opponent in the upcoming election.”

In order to “avoid a conflict of interest or any appearance of impropriety,” Cervone “voluntarily disqualified himself” and requested Scott appoint another State Attorney.

Scott assigned R.J. Larizza, the State Attorney for the 7th Judicial Circuit, to the case. The assignment, according to the executive order, is good for one year. The request, and Scott’s decision to assign a new State Attorney, is largely viewed as a procedural move.

Perry faces Democrat Rod Smith in the Senate District 8 race. A recent poll showed a tight match between the two men, with Smith leading Perry 43 percent to 38 percent.

**Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

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