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Haridopolos agrees to CFO Atwater’s request for public meeting on SBA investment

Thursday, October 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos has agreed to call in State Board of Administration executive director Ash Williams to answer questions about a $125 million investment after Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Haridopolos’ predecessor, asked for the public meeting.

Atwater, a North Palm Beach banker, asked Haridopolos on Thursday to bring Williams in to satisfy Sen. Mike Fasano’s demands for information about an investment earlier this year in hedge fund Starboard Value and Opportunity. Williams gave Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a bill for more than $10,000 in response to a public records request for documents regarding the investment, which was in the works for more than two years before the investment was made in April.

“It is my deep belief that you and the other members of the legislature, elected to represent the interests of Floridians, should have full and open access to information wherever it might reside throughout government, including the SBA,” Atwater wrote in a letter to the senate president.

Atwater also said Fasano should not be charged to review the documents and that he trusts Fasano to keep any confidential information in the records private. On Monday, Fasano asked Haridopolos to subpoena Williams and the documents or to order him to appear before a Senate committee to explain the investment and the public records charges.

“Being that the CFO is a champion of transparency and given his expertise in this realm, I plan to take his recommendation and hold a meeting that will be open to the public and ask the Director of the SBA, Ash Williams, and his staff to be available to answer any questions that the public or my fellow legislators may have about the investment, as well as the public records request,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement late Thursday. “Like CFO Atwater, it is my hope that this meeting will alleviate any questions that lawmakers or the public may have regarding this investment and the SBA, and the IAC may continue to conduct business.”

(more…)

Bondi slams SBA chief for $10K public records bill

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi took State Board of Administration executive director Ash Williams to task after Williams gave a state senator a bill for more than $10,000 for a public records request.

Appearing before the Florida Cabinet this morning, Williams defended the charges, saying the request was unprecedented in its breadth and depth. Williams told state Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who made the public records request, it would take 300 man-hours and more than seven weeks to produce the 6,000 documents Fasano is seeking.

Williams told the Cabinet that estimate was, if anything, a low-ball.

But Bondi, a former state prosecutor who also served as the Tampa state attorney’s spokeswoman, said she’s “lost sleep over the bill” and that her office charged much less for a public records request resulting in more than 25,000 pages of documents. She ordered Williams to provide an explanation for why the request would take so much time and cost so much.

“If you’re going to charge that amount for documents, you need to give a very detailed breakdown as to why you are charging that much, the hours involved,” Bondi said after the meeting. “If it’s a cost that large, you have to better break it down and justify it. It very well may cost that. I’d just like to see a better breakdown. I mean, that’s a lot of money.”

After receiving the bill, Fasano asked Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, to subpoena the documents or order Williams to appear before a committee.

Williams told the Cabinet Tuesday morning the agency would be obligated to provide the information if ordered and that the SBA previously has given lawmakers un-redacted information on the condition that it remains confidential.

Fasano last month began seeking the information from the SBA related to a $125 million state pension fund investment in a hedge fund called Starboard Value and Opportunity.

UPDATE: Senator seeks subpoena for SBA documents related to pension investments after getting $10K bill

Monday, October 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

After getting a bill for more than $10,000 from the State Board of Administration, state Sen. Mike Fasano is asking Senate President Mike Haridopolos to subpoena the documents from the Cabinet agency regarding a $125 million investment in the state pension fund earlier this year.

Fasano is seeking public records demonstrating the “due diligence” the SBA used before it invested $125 million in Starboard Value and Opportunity, a hedge fund spin-off of Ramius LLC. Ramius’s president is a former client of SBA executive director Ash Williams. Williams told Fasano it would cost $10,750.13 for 360 hours of staff time and possibly take months to produce the documents.

An SBA spokesman said the investment – which took more than two years to research, negotiate and complete – was already in the works before Williams came to work for the SBA in July 2008 and neither the agency nor Williams has done anything wrong.

But on Friday, Fasano wrote a letter asking Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, to use his legislative authority to subpoena the documents or order Williams to appear before a committee to explain the investment.

In his letter, Fasano said the SBA’s estimated cost of the records is “chilling to the concept of governmental transparency” and sets a dangerous precedent.

“It is a disgrace that the SBA could merely set a price tag on information that it does not want the public to see. Florida’s Government in the Sunshine laws are a protection that prevent secret deals and other behaviors from being hidden from public view. Circumventing these laws by slapping a price label on the requested material must not be tolerated. Not only will it damage access to information for the legislature, the greater danger is that it will damage access to information for Floridians as a whole,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wrote.

(more…)

State lost $250 million on NYC real estate deal

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida's $250 million investment in Peter Cooper Village in New York City has turned into a total loss, officials said today.

Florida's $250 million investment in Peter Cooper Village in New York City has turned into a total loss, officials said today.

Florida lost $250 million on a 2007 investment in a Manhattan apartment building, the head of the State Board of Administration told the panel overseeing the board this morning.

Peter Cooper Village in NYC is part of the state’s $99.6 billion portfolio that makes up the state’s pension plan.

The state invested $250 million in the apartment complex, where monthly rents range from $2,625 to $8,333, according to the development’s website.

Less than two years later, the value of the investment is zero, Williams told Gov. Charlie Crist, CFO Alex Sink and AG Bill McCollum, who oversee the SBA.

“We think we’re carrying that investment as a zero on our books,” Williams said.

This morning is the first of the quarterly meetings on the state’s investments requested by Sink that the SBA will give to the panel. (more…)

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