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Four DOC nurses fired, seven guards suspended after two-day inmate beating

Friday, August 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

State prison officials fired four nurses and put seven guards on leave pending the outcome of an investigation into a brutal attack over the weekend of a Union Correctional Institution inmate.

The nurses were fired for failing to report the beatings that took place over two days, which another employee reported. One of the nurses was a state corrections employee and three others were contract workers.

The 47-year old unidentified inmate “has multiple injuries and is being treated at an outside hospital,” a press release issued late last night by Department of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil said.

McNeil is holding a press conference at 11:15 to discuss the beatings.

“I intend to bring the full resources of this agency to bear on the individuals responsible for this violent assault, including prosecution, termination and decertification, so they can never work in a correctional environment again. There is no place in our profession for this depraved mindset,” McNeil said in the statement.

The weekend attack is the latest in a string of attacks by guards on inmates at the prison in Raiford or nearby Florida State Prison in Starke.

In June a DOC FSP guard was arrested after being captured on videotape beating an inmate during a power outage. Eleven other employees were involved in that attack.

Four UCI prison officers were fired after an April 9 beating of an inmate. That incident remains under investigation.

Pythons coming soon to a bridge near you?

Monday, July 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

python1Florida counties are suggesting something that sounds like a scarlet letter to warn innocents away from households with scary serpents.

It’s the latest twist in the tale of the python-induced paranoia that’s wound up with bounty hunters seeking the critters in throughout Palm Beach County on lands abutting the Everglades.

The July 1 death of a two-year-old girl who was strangled by a pet python in Central Florida set off demands for an open-season on the snakes, which have overrun the national park. Gov. Charlie Crist gladly complied and ordered the bounty hunt for the pests last week. (U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, has had the Burmese python infestation in his sights for some time).nelson-python

Now, the Florida Association of Counties wants state wildlife officials to give them more control over dangerous animals. The association sent a letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission last week asking them to let counties notify neighbors where perilous pythons and other classified creatures reside.

Perhaps the counties have something like the sex offender registry on the Internet where neighbors can see where perpetrators live.

Will the pythons be forced to take up residence under bridges like sex offenders banned from living near schools, parks or other places where children congregate?

Game on: Crist orders python purge

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A python posse armed with clubs and machetes will start combing the Everglades for the supersized serpents this weekend.

Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the python bounty hunt Wednesday at the urging of two Florida congressmen who were in an uproar after one of the exotic snakes strangled a 2-year-old girl July 1 near Ocala.

That python was a pet and didn’t live in the Everglades. But the case called new attention to the plague of the oversized reptiles that have spread throughout South Florida’s marshes, gobbling wading birds and posing a danger to native wildlife.

Estimates of the python population in the Everglades range between 10,000 and 150,000. They can reach up to 20 feet in length and have long, curved teeth, along with the ability to squeeze their prey to death.


Fed court upholds Florida 100-foot voting place ban on petitions

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

A federal appellate court upheld a Florida law that bars petition gatherers from bothering voters within 100 feet of a polling place.

The U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, overturned a lower court’s ruling that made the law unable to enforce during August’s primary elections. Voters complained then of being accosted by signature gatherers as they exited their polling sites.

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, a former elections supervisor, filed the appeal.

The court ruled that “exit petitioning” is akin to traditional political canvassing, which is also barred within 100 feet of a polling place.

“We believe the sanctity of the voting process and the abuse it has historically faced must allow the Florida legislature to exercise some foresight, to take precautions, and to prohibit questionable conduct nearly polling places before that conduct proves its danger; a compromised election is too great a harm to require otherwise.”

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.

Prison officials clamp down on public records

Thursday, June 25th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State prison officials are refusing to hand over videotapes of guard-on-inmate brutality or even tapes of guards taking mail from prisoners unless they are sued.

For years, Department of Corrections staff gave the tapes to the public, the media and lawyers although officials there now say they never should have.

The clamp-down on public records is chilling, civil rights advocates contend.

The shift comes under the leadership of Gov. Charlie Crist, whose first official action after taking office was to create the “Office of Open Government.”

“This whole thing of Charlie Crist saying there’s transparency in government is just BS, at least as far as the Department of Corrections,” said civil rights lawyer Randall Berg, executive director and founder of the Miami-based Florida Justice Institute.

Read the full story here.

Bud Chiles asks Charlie Crist to keep his promise

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Bud Chiles is asking Gov. Charlie Crist to keep his promise.

The son of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles who secured an historic $11.3 billion settlement with tobacco companies, wants Crist to appoint the panel established in Florida law to oversee the endowment named after his father.

Chiles first asked Crist in December to appoint the panel after lawmakers and Crist diverted more than $350 million from the fund, then worth about $2 billion, which pays for health programs for children and the elderly.

That never happened.

Instead, lawmakers took another $700 million from the endowment, raising the total trust fund raid to more than $1 billion, as they struggled to balance the budget with a two-year $6 billion spending gap.

Bud Chiles today sent Crist a letter asking him to appoint the 16-member panel, which has apparently not met in about five years. Under Florida law, the advisory group is supposed to give recommendations about the fund to the governor by Nov. 1 each year.

Chiles said he and his lawyers considered filing a complaint but decided to bank on Crist’s goodwill instead. He thinks the legislature and Crist might not be so keen on raiding the fund in the future with the oversight the panel should provide.

“If these people aren’t doing it then whose going to protect the rights of these children that are not getting the funds?” he said.

The committee established by law to make recommendations to the governor about how to spend the state’s historic tobacco settlement has not met in more than a decade.

his latest raid on the fund brings the total taken from the endowment to over $1 billion. In 2008, Gov. Charlie Crist convinced legislators and children’s advocates to allow a withdrawal of more than $350 million from the endowment to meet a budget shortfall, then surprised advocates with a second raid on the fund that led to today’s $700 million withdrawal.

Crist on swine flu, DNA database, TK, etc.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist weighed in on a variety of topics this morning after signing several law enforcement-related bills at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles this morning.

Sheltered from the blazing heat by tents, slews of department employees dressed in bright red shirts turned out to hear Crist speak and pose for pictures with the governor, who is also running to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

Among the bills Crist signed today was one that will expand the state’s DNA database. Law enforcement officials, now limited to taking DNA samples from those convicted of crimes, will now be able to take DNA from anyone who is arrested.

But Crist defended the bill (SB 2276) which civil liberties advocates argue is too far-reaching and have threatened to challenge in court.

“I think it’ll be alright or I wouldn’t have signed the bill. I think that we need to protect first and make sure that our people are safe. I think that this legislation will help us to do that even better,” he said.

Read what else Crist told reporters at a gaggle after the bill-signing after the jump. (more…)

Onus on locals to untangle growth management traffic mess, DCA chief advises

Friday, June 12th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Local governments don’t have to scrap their laws requiring developers to pay for roads despite a new law loosening the states growth management oversight, Florida’s top planner said today.

But the state was given that power because cities and counties were too susceptible to pressure from builders, critics of the law contend.

Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham held an Internet-based seminar today to answer a slew of questions asked by planners and others since Gov. Charlie Crist signed SB 360 into law.

Pelham, who criticized the bill during the legislative session that ended last month, repeatedly instructed local planners that they do not have to weaken their laws requiring developers to include roads in urban areas just because the state will no longer force them to.

“Nothing here limits a home rule power to adopt ordinances or fees,” Pelham emphasized over and over.

But cities and counties that fit the law’s broad definition of “urban” will have two years to come up with an as-yet-undefined alternative strategy for dealing with transportation congestion.


Clemency board leaves sex offender who married victim in limbo

Thursday, June 11th, 2009 by Dara Kam

mccranieThe McCranie’s, married nearly a decade, might be considered a Romeo and Juliet romance.
They met when was Virgil was 19 and Misty was 14 and fell in love. Since then, they’ve raised four children while struggling to make ends meet.
But their story is no fairy tale.
Misty and her father pressed charges against Virgil, accusing him of raping the minor. The rape charge was dropped and adjudication but he was charged with lewd and lascivious acts against a minor and was sentenced to two years of probation.
That’s when the father of four’s nightmare began, McCranie told the clemency board today.

Crist bows to JD’s request to reopen $20 million citrus contract

Thursday, June 11th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Senate SessionGov. Charlie Crist again succumbed to pressure from Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander regarding no-bid contracts inked by the governor’s executive agency staff.

Crist said yesterday he would re-open a $20 million contract to market Florida citrus.

Florida Citrus Commission staff recently recommended re-upping the contract with a Texas-based corporation without a public hearing or taking new offers despite a significant drop in citrus sales since the agency took over the contract.

“I think every contract ought to be open bid. Every time,” Crist said when asked whether he would re-open bids on the advertising contract.

When asked if he would order the commission to do so, he replied: “I think I just did.”

The orange juice struggle is the latest in what is becoming an increasingly sour relationship between Alexander, an heir to Ben Hill Griffin’s citrus fortune, and Crist.

Crist vetoed a bill Alexander sponsored that would have given lawmakers more control over high-dollar contracts with private vendors.

Since then, the Lake Wales Republican has publicly asked Crist to re-open bids on two multi-million dollar contracts that would have been automatically renewed had he not intervened.

Last week, Alexander asked Crist to re-bid a $44 million contract with Convergys for the troubled PeopleFirst human resources system.


$15,000 reward in Fla panther death

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State and federal officials are joining with private organizations to offer a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a Florida panther killer.

The panther was shot and killed in Hendry County near the Big Cypress National Preserve. Its body was found on April 21.
Anyone with information about the killing of the Florida panther can call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (239) 561-8144, or can anonymously call the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission’s toll-free hotline at (888) 404-3922.

There are only about 100 Florida panthers, protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, left. It’s illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect them.

J.D. rips Crist on another no-bid multi-million dollar contract

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander launched another assault on multi-million dollar no-bid contracts issued and approved by Gov. Charlie Crist’s agencies, this time objecting to an agreement with a Texas corporation to advertise the state’s citrus industry.

alexanderAlexander’s contract watchdog radar seems to have kicked into overdrive since Crist vetoed a bill he sponsored that would have given the legislature more oversight of high-dollar contracts with private vendors.

Alexander, a citrus baron himself, wrote Crist a letter asking for a re-bid on the $20 million contract with The Richards Group, based in Dallas, Tex., that the Department of Citrus was ready to renew for three years without any public oversight.


E. coli outbreak at Mayo prison

Monday, June 8th, 2009 by Dara Kam

It could have been the turkey or ham that caused an E. coli outbreak at a Florida prison last month.

Forty-two inmates at Mayo Correctional Institution reported gastric problems traced to a May 17 meal consisting of turkey, ham, mac and cheese, cole slaw, corn bread, navy beans and cake, Department of Corrections officials confirmed today.

Eleven stool samples were tested and of those two confirmed cases of E. coli food poisoning, department spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff said.

Department of Health officials believe an ill food services worker may be the source of the contamination, she said. DOH is conducting an investigation, spokeswoman Susan Smith said.

Corrections officials canceled contracts with private vendors to provide food services for the state’s prisons last year and are now preparing and serving meals in-house. The vendor that now supplies the prisons is Lakeland-based U.S. Foodservice.

E. coli is a bacteria that causes severe abdominal cramping followed by diarrhea and bloody stools. The highly contagious germ can be passed from person to person, especially if someone infected with the infection touches food. The best way to prevent the spread of the germ is by hand washing after going to the bathroom.

More than 13 percent of kids in DCF care given mind-altering drugs

Thursday, May 28th, 2009 by Dara Kam

More than 13 percent of the children in state care are being given mind-altering drugs, according to an audit of the Department of Children and Families.

And at least 16 percent of the 2,669 children on the psychotropic medications don’t have a consent form from a parent or a judge as required by state law.

The audit is the result of the apparent suicide of a 7-year-old Broward County boy in foster care last month.

DCF Secretary George Sheldon ordered the review after details surrounding Gabriel Myers’ death revealed that the agency database did not include the correct information about the drugs the child was taking and his case files did not include authorization for administering the drugs.

The report, issued by a panel of experts, also found that

• A total of 2,669 (13.19%) of the 13,000 Florida children in out-of-home care have been prescribed one or more psychotropic medications.
• The largest segment (59%) of those 2,669 children on psychotropic medication is between the ages of 13 and 17 years old.
• There are 73 children (2.75% of the 2,669) ages 5 and under who are receiving psychotropic medications.
• No record of consent or judicial order was found for 16.2% of the 2,669 children receiving psychotropic medication.

Sheldon is holding a press conference at 2 p.m. to discuss the findings. Read the report here.

Foster kids assured access to their histories with new law

Thursday, May 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law two bills helping kids in foster are and those who are getting ready to live on their own.

One bill (SB 126) makes it easier for former foster children to get access to their personal records. And it makes it easier for prospective foster and adoptive families to find out the histories of the children they are considering taking into their homes.
The law also requires state officials to keep complete and up-t0-date records for the kids in their care.

Another bill (SB 1128) makes sure that disabled homeless children and those in foster care have an advocate to make education decision.

Crist signed both bills into law today at a youth services center in Broward County.

Some former foster children have had problems getting their records, making it difficult for them to enroll in college or get a job.

Read about that here.

Thurman, Graham endorse Sink

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Minutes after she announced her candidacy for governor, Florida Democratic Party leader Karen Thurman and former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham endorsed Alex Sink.

Sink, with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson one of only two Democrats elected to statewide office, ended speculation about her run the day after Gov. Charlie Crist announced he would not seek reelection but would run to replace retiring GOP U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

“In just a short period of time, Alex has already cut wasteful spending, cracked down on financial fraud and scams, reformed government contracting and provided our state with a fresh approach to solving problems and restoring Florida’s economy,” Graham said in a statement.

“Floridians are cheering today now that Alex Sink has announced her candidacy for governor. As a businesswoman who delivers real results for the people of Florida, CFO Alex Sink is not only the Democrats’ strongest candidate but she’s the very best candidate for the job,” Thurman’s release said.

Although Sink has been mum about her plans, her attention from national Democrats has not gone unnoticed.

Recently, one of Boca Raton U.S. Rep. Ron Klein’s aides, Stephanie Grutman, came to work for Sink. Sink hired spokeswoman Kyra Jennings, a veteran of several Democratic congressional campaigns, about three months ago.

WPB freshman rep begs guv to veto budget

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009 by Dara Kam

4435Freshman Democratic Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach asked Gov. Charlie Crist today to veto the $66.5 billion budget because of concerns about cuts to programs for the elderly.

Pafford, a former aide to WPB Mayor Lois Frankel, picked a bad day to make news, however.

Pafford hand-delivered a letter to Crist requesting the veto just as the governor’s campaign staff sent out a press release ending months of speculation about whether Crist will run for U.S. Senate. As expected, he will.

Also today U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, folded on his opposition to Craig Fugate’s pending appointment to head FEMA. Fugate is the former head of Florida emergency operations.

And with hurricane season just around the bend Crist announced he was appointing Fugate’s deputy Ruben Almaguer to take his former boss’s place. Almaguer’s new job also is being upstaged by Crist’s candidacy.

Here’s what Pafford had to say in defense of the one out of five Floridians who are seniors.

The budget lawmakers passed on Friday takes away $2.5 million from senior services, including home care and community care for the elderly and Alzheimer’s programs and has a negative impact on about 29,000 seniors in Florida, Pafford wrote.

Pafford mentioned the 103-year-old woman in his district who has been on a waiting list for two years for home care to help keep her out of a nursing home.

He asked Crist to veto the budget and call a special session to force lawmakers to come up with a better spending plan.

“As you might imagine, many seniors on waiting lists for services cannot wait another 14 months for the care that they need today,” Pafford concluded.

Senate Dems want state worker pay cut veto, end to contractors’ automatic pay hikes

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State workers, who have gone without a raise for three years, shouldn’t have their salaries cut while employees of private companies who contract with the state get automatic pay hikes, an angry Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson complained today.

Lawson asked Crist to veto the 2 percent pay cut for state workers making more than $45,000 a year that House and Senate budget negotiators agreed to this weekend.

And he wants Senate President Jeff Atwater to investigate why private contractors continue to get annual salary increases included in state contracts containing “escalation clauses.”
Lawson tried to amend a bill that would have stopped the clauses and redirected the money spent on the pay increases to offset the $30 million in state worker salary cuts included in the budget.

Lawson sent letters today asking Crist for the veto and Atwater for an auditor general investigation into how widespread the escalation clauses are and how much the salary increases have cost the state.

“I believe that the State of Florida is at a crossroads. Do we want a capable, dedicated and highly professional civil service corps? Or do we continue to allow private contractors, with the blessings of the Legislature, unhindered access to dwindling tax dollars while we furlough the state watchdogs or worse, cut their salaries?” Lawson, whose district includes Tallahassee where many state workers live, wrote to Atwater, R-North Palm Beach.

Privatization of PBC TB hospital included in budget – again

Monday, May 4th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Lawmakers have again ordered the Department of Health to privatize A.G. Holley, the state-run tuberculosis hospital, one of the only in the nation.

Added to the budget implementing bill late Monday evening is a line ordering health officials to “enter into an agreement with a specified private contractor to finance, design and construct a hospital for the treatment of patients with active tuberculosis from July 1, 2009 to July 1, 2010.”

House health and human services budget chief Marcelo Llorente said the intent was to force state officials to move forward with the privatization, a priority of Gov. Charlie Crist.

The last-minute language is reminiscent of last year when an amendment was inserted into the budget on the second-to-the-last night of the 2008 legislative session.

Crist’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development received only one bid for the project and it was considered sorely lacking.

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