Thursday, July 05, 2012

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry.

State hires developers as consultants

"Two developers who played a role in dismantling growth management laws in Florida are getting paid by the Department of Transportation to consult on what could be the largest state road project in history."

The project is Future Corridors, a series of at least four toll roads that would crisscross the state's rural areas to spur economic growth, create jobs and birth another generation of suburban communities.

Billy Buzzett and Chris Corr were hired in March to conduct up to 20 interviews with major landowners who own large tracts where the roads could go. After interviewing the landowners, the two would come up with a strategic memo based on the discussions. The contract is worth $106,000; potential land deals could be worth much more.

Both Buzzett and Corr have close ties to Gov. Rick Scott's administration.
"Both Buzzett and Corr supported Scott's campaign for governor and were members of his transition team."
Scott then appointed Corr to the Florida Board of Governors, the board that oversees the state's public universities. In that role, Corr voted to approve the creation of the state's 12th university, Florida Polytechnic in Polk County, which is near the northern end of one of the proposed corridors, the Heartland Parkway. This year, that project was awarded $34.1 million for its design.

Corr has since been appointed by Scott to the board of trustees at the University of Florida.

Corr is getting paid $15,204 to work on Future Corridors. It's unclear if steps have been taken by Corr to avoid conflicts with landowners who may eventually hire AECOM to develop their property around Future Corridors. Corr couldn't be reached, and an AECOM spokesman referred all questions to the state Transportation Department.

Buzzett, who is getting paid $45,724 by the state, works at a law firm that represents developers but said he likely would refuse to represent landowners he and Corr interview.

"The answer would probably be no," Buzzett told the Times. "I wouldn't do anything that would be perceived as unethical. All these landowners, frankly, I'll say, 'no.' I won't work for them. How about that?"

Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said he's not concerned about potential conflicts because the road projects will take too long to build to benefit anyone working now. "If they represent them later, that would be a problem for us," Prasad said. "But (the road projects) are too far off to pose a conflict with any private-sector work."

Buzzett and Prasad say the idea behind Future Corridors isn't to favor developers, but to do things differently than before, when projects were done in a piecemeal fashion. The state needs to better control large tracts of land before it can approve plans that will guide growth in those areas, Buzzett said, and to do that, it needs to work with large landowners sooner.
"Hatched by Gov. Jeb Bush, Future Corridors was shelved by Gov. Charlie Crist but has been revived by Scott."
The corridors would go through the undeveloped parts of the state. Toll roads, paid for by riders and private companies, would be the major transportation mode.

Tom Pelham, when he led the Department of Community Affairs before Buzzett, raised concerns that the project put roads before land use planning and would steer resources into unpopulated areas and away from areas where growth is more likely.

"Inside track on toll roads".

"Mass arrests and downtown chaos"

"[A] post-mortem of what was planned in St. Paul and what actually happened could provide valuable lessons for Tampa as its prepares for its Aug. 27-30 event. Few problems were anticipated at the Minnesota convention, but the event now is widely remembered for mass arrests and downtown chaos." "Tampa could learn lessons from 2008 RNC mistakes".

Raw political courage

The wingers on the Daytona Beach editorial board think "Gov. Scott makes tough, necessary call on Medicaid".

Cop endorsements

"Law enforcement groups split on district attorney candidate endorsements".

"Florida counties are missing out on millions"

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Florida counties are missing out on millions of dollars and homeowners are being kept in the dark about who owns their loans because the state does not require that mortgage assignments be recorded. It’s a problem the Legislature can and should fix during its next session. A federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit by the Duval County Clerk of Court alleging that the Mortgage Electronic Registration System deprived the county of recording fees because the state has no statute that requires lenders to publicly note when they transfer mortgages. Banks created the MERS database to avoid recording fees." "Fix mortgage flaw that enabled robo-signing in Florida".

Tilting at windmills

"Gary Johnson presents radical platform to South Floridians".

"Rubio did his state a disservice"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "The transportation bill that Congress approved last week is far from ideal. It provides only a two-year window for highway spending, suspends or fast-tracks some environmental reviews, and shifts money away from bike paths, pedestrian trails and other alternative transit projects. But it was the best the public could expect given the partisanship in Washington this election year."

Rubio did his state a disservice by being one of only two gulf-state senators to vote against the bill. Rubio complained that the bill had too many tradeoffs and was too costly. This sounds more like an excuse to have it both ways on a bill that had overwhelming support than a principled stand against the usual lawmaking process. At least the bill gets the nation through the election with the least damage to its highway system as possible while setting the stage for states like Florida to further rebound from the spill.
"Transit bill is good enough". Related: "Federal Transit Bill Boosts Mica, Praised By Port Council".

"Internet Freedom" Movement

Nancy Smith: "The nonpartisan movement to keep the Internet free and unfettered gained striking momentum this week, as an Internet-rights petition called the Declaration of Internet Freedom gathered more than 20,000 signatures on Monday, its first day." "'Internet Freedom' Movement Gears up a Notch With Petition Drive".

"Five of the most competitive congressional races in the nation"

Jeremy Wallace: "Florida has five of the most competitive congressional races in the nation. The state has two new (and competitive) seats thanks to redistricting, two seats held by Republicans that Democrats are counting on winning, and a pair of scandals that could affect the outcome of two others. " "Top 5 congressional races in Florida".

"Court system overburdened with too many cases and too few dollars"

The Miami Herald editorial board: "Florida’s court system is overburdened with too many cases and too few dollars. The state’s DNA lab is close to running dry without proper funding, leaving many defendants at risk of having justice denied."

In its final report released last week, the Florida Innocence Commission addressed the issues of eyewitness misidentification, false confessions and the lack of evidence preservation, among other mishaps that can wrongfully convict innocent people. Among the recommendations:

• Having photos be shown to a witness one at a time, instead of a “six-pack” lineup, and shown by someone who does not know which photo is the suspect.

• A law requiring police to record all in-custody interrogations.

• Letting juries know when a witness in a trial is a jailhouse informant to be rewarded with a shorter sentence for testifying.

All are solid reforms, but without adequate financial support to the courts all of the commission’s work will end up on a shelf. The courts, the panel reminded Floridians, are strapped. After more than half a decade of Tallahassee cutting court budgets, the plea for money keeps falling on deaf ears.
"Like every other governmental institution, the courts have taken a blow from the state budget’s belt-tightening. Though funds are scarce, the volume of cases continues to grow with the population."

"Florida’s incarceration rate hovers above the national average, and state courts are becoming processing mills with justice put on the backburner. Lost in Florida’s justice system are those without access to DNA testing and a guarantee of a fair trial. That must end." "Justice denied in cash-strapped courts".