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Satanists’ display rejected as ‘grossly offensive’

Thursday, December 19th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Satanic display rejected as "grossly offensive" by state officials.

Leave it to Satanists to take things a little too far.

The Florida Department of Management Services has denied a request by a Tallahassee-based group called The Satanic Temple to put up a holiday display in the state Capitol Rotunda, alongside a couple presentations by atheists, a Festivus-follower, and more conventional faith-based groups which put up a nativity scene.

The Satanist proposal has been deemed “grossly offensive during the holiday season,” by DMS.

The Capitol is usually home to a Florida red-cedar Christmas tree and a menorah that was in place during Hannukah. But this year, when the American Nativity Scene Committee earned permission for a display, it opened the door for all.

Until the Satanists’ proposal, 14 empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans styled as a Festivus pole, a holiday birthed on TV’s old Seinfeld show, may have been the most outrageous idea. Then again, the Flying Spaghetti Monster posed on a chair in the Rotunda also is unique in the Capitol.

“I just have to laugh,” said Pam Olsen, with the Nativity Scene Committee. “If they want to get me mad, it’s not working. I think it’s great because it just brings more attention to Jesus.”




Florida’s Capitol to host a nativity scene

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A Christian organization said Tuesday it plans to display a nativity scene at the Florida Capitol this holiday season, a new feature to go with the usual Christmas tree and menorah that stand near the entrance to the Governor’s Office.

The eye-catching display risks catching some heat from advocates for stricter boundaries between church and state. But Pam Olsen, president of the Florida Prayer Network, said, “It’s long overdue.”

“I don’t want to offend anyone,” said Olsen, of Tallahassee. “But the nativity scene shows what we are celebrating this season.”

Olsen assisted an Illinois-based organization, American Nativity Scene, committed to bringing such displays to all 50 states, prepare an application submitted to the Florida Department of Management Services.

The nativity scene, which depicts the birth of Christ, is to be unveiled Tuesday in the Capitol’s first-floor rotunda, just off the main entrance. It is expected to remain up through Dec. 27.

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Special session bid fails, but protest heading into its 2nd month

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Democrats have failed in a bid to call a special session of the state Legislature to repeal the controversial “stand your ground law.”

Enough Republicans had voted ‘no’ by late Wednesday to scuttle the push for a session which used a never-before-tried poll of lawmakers. Protesters on Wednesday also marked the 30th day of  their sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office demanding the special session, a protest spawned by George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Although a decision on the session won’t become official until midnight Monday, more than 80 of Florida’s 119 lawmakers refused to endorse the push for a session. Three-fifths support of the Legislature, or roughly 95 votes in favor, are needed under the state constitution.

All but one of the ‘no’ votes have come from Republicans, with only Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, breaking ranks with Democratic leadership.

“Not enough votes 4 SYG Special Session,” House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said in a message on Twitter. “FL supports self defense laws. We’re spending way too much on protest security.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Wednesday that overtime costs for security at the Capitol has neared $150,000 since the protest began. So far, legislative leaders, Scott and the state’s Department of Management Services have not indicated they would seek to end the protest.

Still, Wednesday evening signs were posted at the Capitol warning that “routinely scheduled” fire alarm safety testing would occur between 8 p.m. and midnight. “This testing will include the constant ringing of a loud, high pitch fire alarm throughout multiple floors of the Florida Capitol Building,” the sign warned.

“We’re not leaving,” said Dwayne Campbell, a student at Tallahassee Community College and a member of the Dream Defenders. “We are only becoming more mobilized.”




Scott a secret Santa — gives state workers an extra day off

Friday, December 16th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott has had a rocky relationship with state workers, 120,000 Floridians who haven’t seen a pay raise since 2006.

They campaigned against him as a candidate. And public employees’ unions are suing him for the 3 percent salary contributions he and the Republican-led Legislature ordered workers to pay this year to belong to the Florida Retirement System.

But in the spirit of the season, Scott on Friday ordered all state government buildings closed on Dec. 23 — giving workers an extra day off and an early start on the egg nog.

“On the day before a weekend during which Christmas falls, historically, there has been an extremely low business volume, and a large number of State employees take annual leave to be with their families,” Scott noted in a letter to Department of Management Services Secretary Jack Miles, ordering the closure.

“I also note that the Supreme Court of Florida has declared December 23 to be a Court holiday, and that both the Florida House of Representatives and the Senate have no business whatsoever scheduled for that date. Considering the low utilization of State executive buildings on these days, closing these buildings will also result in a savings of utilities and management costs,” the governor added.

 Then he exclaimed, “I wish you and your family a joyous holiday season.”

 Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, suggested a similar step last year to outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist, but it didn’t go anywhere. Williams said giving workers off the Friday before Christmas could help the economy.

“It’s a good idea,” Williams said. “I’ve got to figure nine out of 10 workers will be out in the stores spending, because they’re not at work that day.”


Scott hires cost-cutter to head state procurement agency

Friday, January 21st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott brought on fellow health care executive Jack Miles to head the Department of Management Services, an agency the governor has blasted for wasting taxpayer money.

Miles oversaw contract management and purchasing at CIGNA, one of the nation’s biggest health insurers. Scott founded and was formerly CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain and owns Solantic, a chain of health care centers.

Miles slashed spending at CIGNA by $80 million in less than two years, according to a press release issued by the governor’s office announcing the appointment.

“State government has to learn to live within its means, and Jack Miles will make sure that our state spends taxpayer dollars more wisely as we tighten the belt across the entire government,” Scott said in a statement.

Scott will put Miles to work reviewing contracts to see where the state can “reduce costs and increase efficiency,” the release reads.

Scott’s office is now analyzing every state agency contract worth more than $1 million. He said earlier this week he’s looking at saving money on state purchases as a way to plug a $3.62 billion budget deficit.

Under pressure, GOP lawmakers drop two bills from special session

Monday, November 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon dropped two suddenly contentious bills from their veto override list after objections from Gov.-elect Rick Scott and GOP donors.

One of the measures (HB 5611) would have taken power away from the governor by removing the Department of Management Services from the executive branch and putting the agency under the governor and Cabinet.

Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill this summer saying it was an encroachment of executive powers. Lawmakers gave the bill received near-unanimous consent this spring.

Cannon and Haridopolos said as late as last week that it was not a power-grab by the legislature, but Haridopolos said Scott asked him this weekend to drop the override.

The other measure would have imposed new restrictions on doctors’ repackaging of prescriptions and would have lowered workers’ comp costs for the state and private companies.

But Automated Healthcare Solutions, a Miramar company headed by two South Florida doctors, supported the veto and spent $1 million on political committees headed by Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Cannon, R-Orlando, this summer.

Associated Industries of Florida, which supported the override and is also a major contributor to GOP campaigns, was one of the many business groups opposed to the legislation.

Senate Prez-to-be demands resignation of DMS secretary

Thursday, October 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Department of Management Services Secretary Linda South should quit her job because she signed off on runaway spending on an appellate courthouse dubbed the “Taj Mahal,” Senate President-designate and government penny-pincher Mike Haridopolos is demanding.

South approved a no-bid contract for the $48 million 1st District Court of Appeal courthouse in Tallahassee even though the rent from the building won’t be enough to pay its debt service, an audit by Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink found this week.

“Because of your irresponsible oversight, which has clearly wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, I call on you to submit your immediate resignation as Secretary of the Department of Management Services. You have failed to provide proper leadership and the abdication of your responsibilities has further weakened the public’s trust that their elected and appointed leaders will use their money wisely,” Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, wrote to South in a letter today.


St. Lucie property appraiser finds $14 million property state owns…sort of

Monday, December 7th, 2009 by Dara Kam

St. Lucie County Property Appraiser Jeff Furst wants to help out frustrated Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander who’s been trying to get a handle on how many buildings the state owns and where they are.

Furst told Alexander’s Ways and Means Committee this morning that he and each of the state’s 67 property appraisers already have a list of state-owned properties that they submit to the state Department of Revenue every year.

There are more than 800 state-owned properties worth at least $400 million in St. Lucie County, Furst told the committee. And that doesn’t include a parcel worth $14 million the state has owned for more than 20 years but never bothered to take title of.
The city of Ft. Pierce donated the land for the building to the state, Furst said. He was surprised to learn that it wasn’t included on the list of state-owned properties and discovered that state officials never took ownership of the property although the warranty deed and other documents were sent to them in 1988.

Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican whose district includes part of St. Lucie County, ordered Department of Management Services Secretary Linda South in January to come up with an inventory of the state’s real property. She hasn’t been able to do that yet. Instead, she wants to hire a private company to help find the missing buildings and create a database of them.

Property appraisers could create the database within 90 days, Furst said.

“Nobody will need anything other than some good cooperation and a state plan,” Furst said.

Management Services officials grabbed Furst after he testified and immediately set up a meeting with him to see what he could do to help them with their task, which Alexander put into state law.

The state is fully aware that it “owns” the building, which still shows up on the tax rolls as belonging to the city of Ft. Pierce. The building is fully occupied by state workers, DMS Chief of Staff Ken Granger said, and the state officials know they “own” it.

Dueling complaints over state plane use

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

A Democratic activist filed an ethics complaintt against Attorney General Bill McCollum yesterday charging the Republican candidate for governor with misuse of the state plane, including a trip to West Palm Beach.

The complaint came later the same day a state employee and Gov. Charlie Crist appointee filed a similar complaint against Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, for the same thing. Sink is also running for governor.

A Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times investigation found that Sink and McCollum each used the planes dozens of times to ferry them to their homes and not for official state business as required by law.

The complaint against McCollum filed by Kenneth Quinnell, a Tallahassee Democrat, charges that the attorney general’s misuse of the state plane included a trip to West Palm Beach on Feb. 19.

McCollum ordered an empty state plane to pick him up at a private airport in Sanford near his Longwood home in Central Florida. He took the plane to Sarasota then to West Palm Beach. The plane returned to Tallahassee empty, which taxpayers must pay for, and McCollum took the next day, Friday, off.

A Department of Management Services, which oversees the state’s executive aircraft pool, draft audit of Cabinet members’ state plane use found that there was potential abuse by high-priority state officials. But the final audit released to the public did not include that information.

Sink ordered her office to investigate the state plane use.

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