Gaetz says Senate will look for 'Transparency 2.0' alternative

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Senate President Don Gaetz is weighing alternatives to a $5 million budget-tracking website that the public can’t currently access, he told members in a memo after two watchdog groups slammed the state for getting ready to scrap the project, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

Gaetz wrote Friday that the Senate would work to find out if there was a better way to offer the public information now available on Transparency 2.0, a web-based budget program developed by Spider Data Services under a no-bid contract. The state’s current deal with Spider Data is set to run out Dec. 31.

Spider Data says it will cost another $1 million a year to maintain the website with 600 licenses for legislators and staff members, with more funding needed if the system is taken public.

“Considering the importance of budget transparency and the known and as of yet unknown costs, I will ask the members of the Senate to decide how and whether to proceed with the Spider Data relationship or some other initiative that will achieve the same or similar transparency functions related to state spending and contracts,” Gaetz wrote.

Specifically, Gaetz said he would ask Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Chairman Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, and Senate General Government Appropriations Chairman Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, to weigh legislation to create an alternative to Transparency 2.0.

Gaetz said he would also look into how much it would cost to overhaul a similar site currently maintained by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater; supporters of increasing public access to Transparency 2.0 say the CFO’s site is more cumbersome than the new product.

The memo came hours after Integrity Florida and the First Amendment Foundation held a press conference to pressure state leaders to allow public access to the site.

“The public paid for it and we should be allowed to see it and use it,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida.

Krassner and Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said they were given access to the site and thought it was easier to navigate and use than Atwater’s system. They pushed for the state to renegotiate the contract to allow the public to use it.

The tumult over the deal seems to spring in part from the controversial tenure of Steve MacNamara, a former chief of staff to Scott and, before that, former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. MacNamara resigned in May over questions about his role in shakeups of Scott’s administration and in some state contracting, including the Transparency 2.0 deal.

Gaetz wrote that a transfer between the Senate and Scott’s office is on hold, despite a “memorandum of understanding” signed this spring by Haridopolos’ office.

“Following staff changes, the Governor’s Office declined to sign the Memorandum and has not taken over responsibility for the contract, expressing concerns to my office over the manner in which it was procured and their authority to take over the no-bid contract,” Gaetz said.

But Krassner said the state should move forward with Transparency 2.0.

“If we really want to follow the money in Tallahassee … this is the site,” he said.

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.