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Fla Dems’ spokesman moving on

Friday, July 29th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Three years of speaking on behalf of the Florida Democratic Party, apparently is enough for Eric Jotkoff.

The state party spokesman said Friday that he plans to put aside his Blackberry for a while before moving onto the next opportunity. Jotkoff’s replacement is expected to be named Monday, said the departing spokesman, who plans to stay on another couple weeks.

Jotkoff served under two party chairs, Karen Thurman and her successor, Rod Smith. He also was a Smith spokesman when the former Alachua state senator ran for governor in 2006.

Quick with the quote, tweet or email, Jotkoff on Friday fondly recalled Democratic successes with the Obama campaign in Florida, and Republican missteps with disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom and criminally charged ex-GOP chairman Jim Greer.

“Over the next few weeks, I will be taking some time off to relax and recharge before announcing my future plans. I look forward to spending several weeks without having my Blackberry basically surgically attached to my hand because I won’t need to respond to the scandal de jour,” Jotkoff’s wrote in signing off.

 

Deal struck on private prisons

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 by Dara Kam

After intense opposition to a prison privatization plan linked to disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom and slipped into the budget late last week, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander has apparently backed off his proposal to shut down up to three prisons and outsource another.

Alexander’s plan drew allegations of foul play from the Police Benevolent Association, the powerful union that represents prison guards and frequently backs GOP candidates, and Gov. Charlie Crist’s Secretary of Corrections Walt McNeil.

The privatization plan would have shut down enough prisons to fill the Blackwater facility in the Panhandle that the state hired Boca Raton-based Geo Group Inc. to build and operate. But the prison population hasn’t grown as anticipated and there aren’t enough inmates to fill the 2,224-bed Blackwater without shutting down other state-run prisons and putting guards out of work.

McNeil said Friday he would have to shut down five prisons and let inmates out early to comply with a federal court order under the Senate’s proposal that would cut about $60 million in salaries.

Under the new plan, expected to be introduced as a budget amendment today by Democratic Leader Al Lawson, the department would gradually fill Blackwater by closing 17 dorms in other prisons, something McNeil favors.

Critics of the proposal also filed complaints with State Attorney Willie Meggs and U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirwin, both in Leon County, alleging that the Blackwater deal was done in secrecy and questioning Sansom’s association with it. Sansom put the original $110 million to the build the prison into the 2008 budget in a floor amendment and tried to guarantee that it would be built as an annex to the Graceville prison that Geo operates.

Atwater blames Thrasher for not giving up GOP credit card statements

Monday, March 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate President Jeff Atwater said he is more than willing to hand over his Republican Party of Florida-issued American Express credit card statements but that the party’s new chairman, Sen. John Thrasher, won’t do it.

Reporters asked Atwater, who is running statewide for chief financial officer, about the notorious AmEx spending that’s embroiled former House Speaker and U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio and former House Speaker Ray Sansom.

“I asked Chairman Thrasher if he would release the statements of the RPOF credit card that was assigned to me and he said no,” Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said. “He said he has his internal process going on…I have asked him and he has said no. That is the party’s card. It is not my card. I do not have the statements.”

When pressed about why Atwater did not request the statements, he insisted he could not.

“I’m not the card. That would be RPOF. It’s RPOF’s card. So if RPOF were to request those statements I assume they could get them. At this point, it is the party’s card. And I have asked the chairman would you release any card statements that were associated with me? I have no qualms about what anyone would see on that and he said no, we’re doing our process.”

Atwater had one of the AmEx cards while he was recruiting Republican Senate candidates and raising money for the party in 2007 and 2008. He says he used the card strictly for party-related business.

The cards, issued to an undisclosed group of top elected Republicans and party officials, have been a continuing source of embarrassment as details have emerged of lavish spending by former Chairman Jim Greer (including that $3,600 meal at Brasserie L’Escalier), indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom (his $173,000 in AmEx charges included a family trip to Europe and an $893 Starbucks tab) and former exec director Delmar Johnson ($133,763 in a single month last summer).

Rubio got his turn in the AmEx spotlight last week when someone, presumably a supporter of opponent Gov. Charlie Crist’s slumping GOP Senate bid, leaked records of Rubio’s $125,000 in charges from 2006 to 2008. No Greer-scale extravagances emerged, but the records showed a $133.75 visit to Churchill’s Barber Shop in Miami that Rubio said he paid himself.

House investigative committee closes shop after Sansom resignation

Monday, February 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct wrapped up its business this morning in the wake of former House Speaker Ray Sansom’s resignation last night.

Committee Chairman Bill Galvano:

“As a result of Speaker Sansom’s resignation as a member of the Florida House, further action by this committee is rendered moot. We’re without authority to fulfill the charge of this select committee,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said.

Crist calls for statewide grand jury investgation of South Florida corruption

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist called for a statewide grand jury to investigate political corruption in South Florida and around the state. Crist said he has removed 30 public officials from office around the state since he’s been governor.

“A recent rash of crimes committed by public officials in South Florida has led to a crisis of confidence among those who have elected them to office,” Crist said. “Today, I have petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a Grand Jury to investigate these crimes, bring indictments and provide specific recommendations to address fundamental problems within the system that may be cultivating a culture of corruption.”

Read the petition here.

Crist’s request for a grand jury comes after in the wake of the indictments of several Broward County elected officials on federal charges including bribery, money laundering and wire fraud. And prominent GOP fundraiser Alan Mendelsohn, a lobbyist who served on Crist’s transition team, was indicted last week on charges that he diverted at least $350,000 from campaign contribution and clients’ fees to pay for his mistress’ love nest, a luxury car and his kids’ private school tuition.

Palm Beach County led the public corruption scandal sheet in 2006 that resulted in three county commissioners and two West Palm Beach officials going to prison.

The corruption isn’t limited to South Florida, Crist said. He’s asked the grand jury to begin work by focusing on Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Lee and Hendry counties.

(more…)

Gelber pushes constitutional amendment to stop secret budget deals

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dan Gelber is pushing a constitutional amendment aimed at cracking down on the kind of secret budget deals that got former House Speaker Ray Sansom in trouble.

Gelber, who is running against Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres in a Democratic primary for state attorney general, and Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, want lawmakers to put the constitutional amendment on next year’s November ballot.

The amendment would require that appropriations bills be written in plain language and that all budget conference meetings between two or more lawmakers be conducted in a publicly noticed meeting.

The state budget is usually crafted in a much different manner, going through a series of conference committees until the Senate President and the House Speaker ultimately resolve their differences behind closed doors.

In Sansom’s case, he was the House budget chairman when he slipped in a $6 million item to build an airport at a college where he later became a high-paid executive on the day he was annointed Speaker.

Sansom, Okaloosa County developer Jay Odom and former Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg have been indicted on official misconduct charges regarding the airport.

Sansom and Richburg each face an additional perjury charge for allegedly lying to a Leon County grand jury. They are scheduled to stand trial at the end of this month. (more…)

Pruitt testifies in criminal case involving state budget issue

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by Palm Beach Post Staff

By MICHAEL C. BENDER
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

TALLAHASSEE — A controversial college construction project in the Panhandle followed a similar initiative at Indian River State College, according to e-mails assembled in the criminal case against former state House Speaker Ray Sansom.
But the building in Fort Pierce has one important difference, former Senate President Ken Pruitt recently said in sworn pre-trial testimony:

“There is no airport hangar there,” Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, told state investigators.

(more…)

Crist has “enormous respect” for Sansom grand jury

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist had few words to say about a new perjury charge against disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom handed down by a grand jury today. The grand jury indicted the Destin Republican for misuse of office last month.

“Obviously we have a criminal justice system that’s working its way through the grand jury. I have enormous respect for their work,” Crist said this afternoon.

The governor sidestepped questions about whether Sansom should resign.

“I think that’s a decision for a different day,” he said.

Budget talks should be more open, Senate prez says

Friday, April 24th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Budget negotiations should be more open, Senate President Jeff Atwater said this morning.

Atwater said that the Senate rules governing which talks should be public and when that should happen might need to be changed to at least give the appearance of openness.

“It’s necessary,” the North Palm Beach Republican told reporters after a briefing with the Senate Democratic caucus. “It’s important for us to be as open as we can in this process.”

Atwater held a meeting with Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, Sen. Mike Haridopolos and Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson this weekend inside the Capitol.

Meetings between three or more senators are required to be noticed and open to the public. The Capitol was locked over the weekend.

Atwater said the meeting was unplanned and the group happened to be in the Capitol at the same time and that he ran into Lawson after the Democrat grabbed some ice cream in the Senate member lounge.

Budget leaders have yet to order a public conference committee to begin hashing out their differences.

But throughout the week, House and Senate leaders have traded written budget offers dealing with “allocations,” or how much revenue they will have to spend. The back-and-forth proposals have included high-level proposals in which the House agreed to a cigarette tax, a measure which was never heard in committee.

The longer the behind-closed-doors negotiations drag on, the more questions are being raised about the lack of transparency in crafting the state’s $65 billion budget.

A grand jury last week condemned the budgetary process, saying it was not open enough and gave powerful lawmakers the ability to sneak items into the budget with little or no oversight. That grand jury indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom for putting money for an airport hangar into the budget during a private meeting with his Senate counterpart when he was the House budget chairman.

“Part of the concerns that have been raised is that people think we’re running a parallel side-by-side track, that I might just be having conversations on allocations when someone else is actually getting into specific line items and trading bills.
That’s not going on. The longer that thins has gone on the greater that perception may be created that people think that’s actually taking place and it’s not,” Atwater said.

“If it would be helpful that the allocation process could be more open I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” he said.

He said that his conversations with House Speaker Larry Cretul about the cigarette tax were not “in any way some kind of mysterious kind of conversation.”

“I think everyone in Florida knows we’ve been discussing the tobacco surcharge,” Atwater said.

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