Friday, December 28, 2012

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

"Big polluters and their Republican allies in Tallahassee"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "The new water standards recently announced by the federal government finally should mark a new era in cleaning up Florida's polluted lakes, streams and coastal areas." They write that "this should force the big polluters and their Republican allies in Tallahassee to switch from characterizing this as a states' rights issue and overstating the cost of clean water to actually devising a plan in concert with Washington to protect the public and the state's economy." "Clean water plan at last". The Sun Sentinel editorial board: "Protect Florida's rivers and springs".

State contractor pays man in corner office $1.2 Million

"A nonprofit company that holds two dozen state contracts to care for troubled juveniles in Florida pays its chief executive more than $1.2 million a year in salary and benefits, most of it courtesy of taxpayers."

Outraged, the state Department of Juvenile Justice says the money paid to William Schossler is excessive and should be spent to help kids. The state wants the hefty paydays to stop. "It was never the department's intent that such a large share of the funding would go to compensate the top administration of your corporation instead of into direct services for our youth," wrote Gov. Rick Scott's juvenile justice chief, Wansley Walters, in a Dec. 12 letter to Schossler. "That is something that neither the department nor the citizens of Florida can abide."

Schossler, 65, of Chiefland, is president of The Henry & Rilla White Foundation, a Tallahassee-based nonprofit that has done work for the state for more than two decades. Named for Schossler's grandparents, the foundation manages residential treatment beds, provides counseling and therapy to troubled children after they complete residential care, and has programs to divert kids from delinquency.

In the current budget year, the foundation's 23 juvenile justice contracts statewide have a total value of $10.2 million.

The previous year, Schossler made $382,906 in salary and $579,914 in bonuses and incentive compensation, that year's IRS filing shows. . . .

"There is no way that over the past couple of years you can have the level of executive compensation rise without seeing a reduction in services," Walters said in an interview. . . .

For now, Schossler makes no apologies for his pay and benefits package.

"If there's something wrong here, I'm sure my board will fix it, but there's nothing wrong here," Schossler said. "If anything, my board thinks I'm underpaid."

"Nonprofit with state contracts pays its top exec $1.2M".

"The Specter of Charlie Crist"

Jim Turner: "When it comes to the down and dirty of Florida politics, where U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, and Gov. Rick Scott have every word dissected by the media, and Democrats in 2012 were able to dent the GOP domination in the state Legislature and among the congressional delegation, there has been a single specter that constantly would raise its head wherever partisan events transpired: Charlie Crist." "Florida Politics in 2012 Overshadowed by the Specter of Charlie Crist".

Florida's political story of the year

Scott Maxwell: Florida's political story of the year is clear: "It's a story that unfolded in Orlando's backyard — in Seminole County, to be precise."

That's where 36,983 voters did something that hadn't been done in a quarter-century: oust a chosen speaker of the Florida House.

Newspapers from all over the state marveled at the defeat of Speaker-designate Chris Dorworth, calling it "shocking," "stunning" and "one of the largest upsets in the history of the Florida Legislature."

Really, though, all local voters did was take a stand against self-serving politics, conflicts of interest and abuses of power.

And in doing so, they sent shock waves throughout the state — and a wake-up call to Tallahassee.

In fact, the entire Legislature is now talking about revamping the shady way it does business, cracking down on lawmakers' access to special-interest money, high-priced travel and political perks.

It's reform that is overdue — yet which probably wouldn't even be on the table if voters in this one district hadn't united in bipartisan fashion to say: Enough.

Ironically, Dorworth should have been able to cruise to re-election.

Not only was his district drawn specifically for him, he was flush with special-interest money.

He had political sugar daddies ranging from Disney World to [alleged Democrat] mega-trial lawyer John Morgan.

Dorworth would support legislation that Disney wanted. And Disney would fill Dorworth's campaign coffers — $180,000 last year alone.

It was the kind of "magic" Disney doesn't like to talk much about when promoting its squeaky-clean image.

And this political marriage probably would have continued to thrive … if Dorworth had simply kept his head down.

"Chris Dorworth's defeat was Florida's political story of the year".

"Democrats score gains across the I-4 corridor"

Jim Turner writes that "the general election showed that Florida remains an ideologically diverse collective. The new constitutionally required rules of redistricting helped Democrats score gains across the I-4 corridor, erasing Republican supermajority holds in the state House and Senate." "Legislative, congressional races".

Business hacks dominate judiciary

"Dennis Baxley, Tom Lee Bring Business Experience to Judiciary Roles".

Red tide

"Officials say red tide is responsible for thousands of dead fish that have washed up along the beaches in Sarasota and Charlotte counties." "Red tide kills thousands of fish in Sarasota".

"Florida on political front-line nationally"

Jeff Henderson: "Florida, as it has been in recent years, was a political front-line nationally, at the presidential, congressional and state levels."

Obama was not the only Democrat to win big in Florida this year. When 2012 opened, most pundits expected U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to be in a competitive election as he sought a third term. Things appeared to be coming together for U.S. Rep. Connie Mack as he sought the Republican nomination to challenge Nelson. Despite exchanging heavy fire with Mack, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux pulled out of the primary. Mack easily dispatched Mike McCalister and a late challenge from former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon to win the Republican nomination. But Nelson turned up the heat on Mack with a series of attack ads. Mack never recovered from those, or from earlier ones by the LeMieux campaign -- while the Republican leadership, which had welcomed Mack into the race, began to express doubts about his bid. Nelson crushed Mack at the polls, taking 55 percent; the Republican trailed with 42 percent.

There were some major changes to Florida’s congressional delegation in 2012. In one of the highest-profile races in the nation, Democrat Patrick Murphy overcame controversial Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West’s major financial advantage to knock him off in the general election. West took days to concede, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many Florida voters.

In a rematch from 2010, Democrat Joe Garcia turned the tables on Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera, who was constantly in the news for accusations about ethics violations. Another Democrat who lost in 2010 -- outspoken liberal Alan Grayson -- came roaring back to Congress in 2012 as he emerged to represent a new district in Central Florida. But Republicans held their own as incumbents Vern Buchanan, Steve Southerland, Dan Webster and Bill Young held off major Democratic challengers.

There are also some new Republicans representing Florida in Congress. In one of the biggest political upsets Florida has seen in recent decades, tea party favorite Ted Yoho, a large-animal veterinarian who had never run for office before, defeated U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns in the GOP primary. Stearns had been in Congress for almost a quarter of a century. Conservative attorney and veteran Ron DeSantis emerged to represent a new congressional district on the Atlantic Coast. Overcoming a very crowded Republican primary field, talk-show host Trey Randel will replace Mack in representing parts of Southwest Florida.

Much more here: "Florida Was a Major Player on the 2012 Political Stage".

5 things to know

"5 things to know in Florida for Dec. 28".

Will Palm Beach supply scab dockworkers?

"The Port of Palm Beach dockworkers are a non-union workforce and therefore will not be affected by any potential strike by the ILA workers." "Walkout by workers won’t affect Port of Palm Beach but Miami, Port Everglades will hurt".

City whines about audit showing it unnecessarily slashed salaries

"A state audit criticizing Hollywood for declaring financial urgency in 2011 was full of mistakes and presumptions, according to a response submitted by city leaders this week."

“Obviously bad data in equals bad conclusions out,” said City Attorney Jeff Sheffel.

The city filed its 27-page response, plus graphics, late Wednesday night, just hours before the state’s deadline. . . .

In November, the state auditor released a scathing report which criticized Hollywood for failing to plan for rising pension costs and not considering all available funding before declaring “financial urgency” in 2011.

That declaration led to employees’ salaries and jobs being slashed, and residents’ taxes and fees going up. The city eventually had to overcome a $38 million budget gap.

"Among Hollywood’s criticisms:"
• The city would have needed a special act of the Legislature to make changes to its pension program;

• The state auditor underestimated the city’s budget shortfall by nearly $7 million.

• When citing the amount of money Hollywood could have carried over from one year to another, several figures were wrong, the city said.

• The report said the city raised the tax rate for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which was an incorrect statement. Hollywood kept the rate at $7.4479 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

• When criticizing the city for the way it tracks its vehicle maintenance and fuel usage, the state auditor incorrectly used the number 750 vehicles. The city owns 1,042, according to Hollywood officials.

• The state audit suggested the city could have transferred $22.7 million from its water and sewer fund. But the city says most of the money was not cash in hand and could not be used to transfer to the general fund.

"Hollywood to state: Your audit is full of mistakes".