With almost $500,000 settlement, Scott and Atwater achieve dubious victoryby John Kennedy | December 4th, 2012
Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Tuesday that state offficials have agreed to an almost $500,000 settlement with a Tallahassee art gallery and a construction firm ensnared in a controversy stemming from the new First District Court of Appeal building.
The settlement still must be approved by the Legislative Budget Commission. And even though the state is paying not only the full amount owed Signature Art Gallery and Peter Brown Construction — plus the private companies’ legal fees — Republican leaders cast the settlement as a victory for taxpayers.
The companies will be paid the $392,658.56 owed them, along with $122,224.14 for litigation and other costs, according to the settlement.
“Our most important goal is to protect taxpayer dollars to best meet the needs of Florida families,” Scott said. “It was right to ask for a rigorous and thorough review of the tax dollars
committed to this project.”
Atwater, a former North Palm Beach legislator, said, “With this settlement, the parties now agree that it is appropriate for the Legislature to determine the legitimacy of the payment request.”
The stand-off with the contractors began in 2010, when Atwater’s predecessor, Democrat Alex Sink, completed an audit of the First DCA project a month before her defeat by Scott in the governor’s race. She said a “perfect storm” of wrongdoing helped run cost of the project – which she dubbed the Taj Mahal – to $48.8 million, about $17 million more than initial estimates.
The courthouse, she said includes 20 miles worth of imported African mahogany, granite countertops and other luxury fixtures.
It had become a “travesty,” Sink said, because of a lack of oversight by the state Department of Management Services and bullying by appeals court judges – particularly Chief Judge Paul Hawkes. Hawkes has since stepped down from the court.
Sink froze payments to Signature Gallery for 369 framed, historic photos for for the courthouse. The hardline stance was continued by Atwater after he was elected that fall. The construction company included in the settlement had contracted with Signature Gallery to provide the art work.
According to the settlement announced Tuesday, the photos don’t sound destined for the First DCA building. Instead, the artwork involved in the settlement will go to the Department of State’s Division of Cultural Affairs.