As a follow up to yesterday's "Treats flow at parties for elected officials (with document)", we read in The Orlando Sentinel this morning about a dinner that "was one of about a dozen private receptions hosted by lobbyists and special-interest groups taking place after hours during this week's Florida League of Cities conference in Orlando."
For about three hours at Fulton's, the officials enjoyed a five-course dinner that featured filet mignon, Alaskan king crab and an open bar. ..."Officials enjoy 5-course fun for free, courtesy of lobbyists (with document)". That wouldn't be the same "Waste Management Inc." that has privatization contracts around the state to do garbage pick up?
The officials were whisked to the third floor of the elegant paddlewheel restaurant by private elevator. As the sun set over Disney's Pleasure Island, attendees mingled, sampled appetizers and chatted. There appeared to be little talk of business -- conversation drifted from the type of cigars one official enjoys to the impending departure of another's daughter to college later this month to the types of drinks they were being served.
Despite being attended by several members of the same public boards, the party was not advertised as a public meeting. Two reporters who tried to attend were asked to leave. ...
At least five other swanky parties like this were scheduled for Thursday night, and another half-dozen or so will take place tonight, including the "Death by Chocolate" reception hosted by sanitation company Waste Management Inc.
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board weighs in: "They ought to rename the lavish 'Death By Chocolate' dessert party held this weekend at the Florida League of Cities conference."
It ought to be called "Slow Death By Chocolate," because, bite by sinfully delicious free bite, city officials who partake are killing what's left of the public's confidence in their government.Don't do it".
Mayors and city commissioners will tell you they can't be bought by one or two or 12 slices of lucious chocolate cake. Or by sweet, buttery lobster tail. Or free booze. Or juicy filet mignon.
But the public thinks they can be bought. In fact, a scary percentage think their government has already been bought. A CNN News poll just before last November's elections found that 50 percent of Americans thought their member of Congress is corrupt. Local officials are kidding themselves if they think the cynicism ends at the foot of Capitol Hill.
Its A Secret
"Sen. Don Gaetz wants the state's transportation chief to release bridge inspection reports, even though the department insists they are secret under anti-terrorism laws." "Lawmaker seeks release of bridge-inspection reports". Meanwhile, back at the ranch: "Tallahassee: Committee to study open-government laws".
More 2000 (with a little CD 13)
"In an investigative project for the HDNet television network, Dan Rather contends he has found evidence of faulty paper used in the famous Palm Beach County punchcard ballots in the 2000 election which could have caused many of the undervotes in that race; and evidence that faulty touch screens were used in the iVotronic touchscreen voting machines used in last year’s District 13 congressional race in Sarasota." "Rather Breaks News On 2000 Recount, D 13 Race". See also "Rather tackles touch-screen voting issues".
"Ask The Governor: Sales tax exemptions may be next on reform list".
Another Fine Mess
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "The Florida Department of Children and Families last week pulled the plug on HomeSafenet - a computerized case-management system that never worked right, despite a decade of development."
The cost of this high-tech debacle: $190 million. ..."Even More Money Thrown Away".
The announcement came just two months after the state shelved Project Aspire, a financial computer system that never worked right. For it, taxpayers paid $89 million.
"Florida regulators grilling The Hartford on its request for a $44 million rate increase questioned its efforts to collect a 15 percent profit for itself as well as similar rewards for its re-insurers. But the bulk of the increase goes for something regulators can't regulate - an increasingly dark view of the hurricane threat to Florida." "Regulators: Insurance situation 'problematic'".
"A proposal to let homeowners take at least part of their existing tax breaks with them when they move received a frosty reception Thursday from part of a commission studying Florida's tax structure." "Property tax 'portability' gets frosty reception from tax panel".
"With a new governor at the helm of the nation's largest swing state, the national green group Environmental Defense decided the time was ripe to make an impression."
So, it helped finance a climate-change summit in Miami last month where Gov. Charlie Crist announced aggressive carbon reduction goals. It paid for a poll to take the temperature of Floridians on the plans. And in perhaps the most telling development, the group has spent at least $172,000 on lobbyists in Tallahassee through the first half of 2007."Green group banking on Crist's eco-sense".
The amount they paid during Jeb Bush's last year in office? Zero.
"Crist has until Tuesday to reach an agreement with the state's Seminole Tribe on the addition of Las Vegas-style games to its casinos - a deal that could allow the state to get millions in tax revenue from the tribe's profits." "Will state, tribe take a gamble?".
Party On Dude
"Described as "anxious but hopeful," former Palm Beach County Commish Tony Masilotti spent his last hours of freedom grilling lobster tails on his gas barbecue and playing volleyball with guests at his Welly home. Even more Tony-esque: He watched Susan Masilotti, the ex-wife whose divorce filing accelerated his fall from grace, mingle with the gal pal he'd been seeing secretly on and off while still married, former water district employee Renee DeSantis." "Masilotti hosts crowded pre-pen cookout".
Feeney Legal Fund Gets Fatter
"The fund that U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney set up to help pay his legal bills has received a $5,000 donation from an Oviedo businessman who is hoping for a NASA contract. And it's the same person, Tyng-Lin Yang, whose relationship with Feeney raised questions when Feeney was Florida House speaker." "Feeney supporter pumps up legal fund".
"Florida's largest health insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, has joined with the state's hospitals and health care providers in an last-ditch effort to keep the state's no-fault insurance alive. The Coalition to Protect Florida's Drivers issued a release today asking Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Legislature to either extend or reform the law that requires motorists to carry personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. PIP is scheduled to sunset on Oct. 1." "Blue Cross and Blue Shield joins effort to keep PIP". The Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "Don't let PIP RIP".
Egalitarianism, Florida Style
"Nearly $1 out of every $10 spent lobbying the Florida Legislature this year came from cities and counties looking to lessen the blow of property tax cuts and seeking more money for hometown projects. All told, special interests -- including insurance companies, giant telecommunications firms and local governments -- spent between $35 million and $83 million on lobbying just the Florida Legislature, newly filed reports show. Anywhere from $17 million to $52 million also was spent to lobby Gov. Charlie Crist and state agencies." "Localities spent big in tax debate".
The St. Petersburg Times editorial board:
When word came down from Tallahassee that local governments would have to cut their property tax rates (or be brave enough to override the cuts), many began slashing spending for parks, recreation and other "nonessentials." But they also started cutting two areas that are absolutely essential: affordable housing and medical services for the poor. "Indefensible cuts".
Difficult economic times call for maintaining or enhancing services aimed at the very families the Legislature claims it is trying to help with tax cuts.
"Eight months into GOP Rep. Gus Bilirakis' congressional career, two area Democrats are eyeing runs for his U.S. House seat in 2008. Former Plant City Mayor John Dicks traveled to the nation's capital two weeks ago to meet with national party officials about his potential bid. He said Thursday in an interview that he will make his decision by about Labor Day. Bilirakis already has one Democratic opponent, William D. "Bill" Mitchell, a Tampa employment lawyer and Navy veteran. He also filed to run for the seat in 2006 but withdrew in deference to Phyllis Busansky, defeated by Bilirakis in November." "Bilirakis Already In Cross Hairs".
"A sealed indictment made public charged McInvale and her former legislative aide, Robert Franklin Stuart Jr., with several official-misconduct charges, along with grand theft, cheating and falsifying records. They are accused of using state funds to pay a "private debt" in 2005 and 2006 while McInvale was still in the Legislature." "McInvale, ex-aide face felony charges". See also "Former lawmaker Sheri McInvale, ex-aide charged with theft".
After Leaving Florida In A Mess ...
... Jebbie is cashing in: "Former Gov. Jeb Bush is taking a low profile in Florida politics since leaving office—for instance, he hasn’t publicly taken sides in the presidential primary, nor has he had much to say about the performance in office of his successor, Gov. Charlie Crist. But that doesn’t mean he’s hiding his light under a bushel. Bush is maintaining a schedule of speaking appearances, often before conservative or religious groups, and is represented by a big-name speaker’s agency, Washington Speaker’s Bureau." "Jeb Not Hiding His Light".
Trimming the "Fat"?
Aren't tax cuts nice: "The Tampa Parks and Recreation Department shouldered the heaviest burden when it came to budget cuts. In all, the department cut about $4.5 million from its $38 million budget. Roughly 100 full-time and part-time positions were eliminated, along with another 100 seasonal jobs." "Parks Budget Plan Cuts Millions".
"Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani appears to be living up to his promise to make Florida an important part of his campaign—he’ll make a second appearance in St. Petersburn Sept. 7 at a fundraising dinner for the Pinellas County Republican Party." "Giuliani To Return To St. Pete".
"Jose Padilla verdict masks a gross travesty"
The Daytona Beach - News Journal editorial board: "A jury in Miami took less than two days to find Jose Padilla guilty of conspiracy to fund and support Islamic terrorism abroad. It's not quite the end of the story, if rights and due process are to matter at all in America."
The Padilla verdict on Thursday, coming as it did at the end of a five-year odyssey of exaggerated accusations and stunning abuses of power against an American citizen, speaks more of the Bush administration's manipulation of fears, facts and prejudices to deceptive ends than of justice done. Why should this case matter to you? Because the abuses it entailed along the way have yet to be rectified either by Congress or the Supreme Court. Until then, what happened to Padilla can happen to anyone."Arbitrary justice". The Palm Beach Post disappoints with this: "Guilty, the right way".
"Another unfavorable prognosis"
"Florida's university system just got another unfavorable prognosis: Florida International University and the University of Central Florida are tens of millions of dollars short on what it will take to complete their medical schools that, combined, were supposed to cost $500 million." "New state med schools can finance their bailout".