Court rules against CFO Atwater in Taj Mahal payment dispute

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Though the original dispute already had been settled, an appeals court Friday ruled against the state Department of Financial Services in a dispute about whether Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater could block payment for historical photographs at a controversial Tallahassee courthouse.

Judges from the 5th District Court of Appeal upheld an administrative law judge’s opinion that sided with Peter R. Brown Construction Inc., the contractor on a project to build a new 1st District Court of Appeal building.

The project has been highly controversial because of the opulence of the building, dubbed the “Taj Mahal.”

Atwater and former CFO Alex Sink tried to block $357,500 in payments to a subcontractor, Signature Art Gallery, for the historical photographs. But the appeals court found that the chief financial officer didn’t have the legal authority to block the payments, which were approved by the state Department of Management Services. The ruling said part of state law “merely requires that the CFO examine, audit and settle all claims against the state. It does not provide or explicitly allow the CFO to restrict an agency’s expenditures for particular categories of items unless such items are ‘expressly’ authorized. The CFO has no authority to supervise the operation of other state officers or state agencies in the exercise of the discretion vested in them by law.”

Judges from the 5th District Court of Appeal were appointed to handle the case because of the controversy surrounding the 1st District Court of Appeal. Amid the dispute, lawmakers approved a settlement that paid Signature Art Gallery.

Via The News Service of Florida.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.