Democratic State Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood and State Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando have convened an investigation into Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office. The move is in response to several incidents that occurred around the same time. Former Deputy Attorney General Joe Jacquot resigned to take a key position with a mortgage firm the Florida Attorney General’s office was investigating and suing for fraud. Lender Processing Services of Jacksonville was being investigated over its mortgage and foreclosure activities. Less than a week after Jacquot left the Attorney General’s Office, foreclosure fraud investigators Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson were abruptly fired. Around the same time, the lawsuits against Loan Processing Services were dismissed. Bondi had resisted discussions about the peculiar coincidences but she is now welcoming an independent investigation of her office.
Many Florida municipalities have ordinances in place that restrict guns from public parks, property, buildings and facilities. But, as of October, county and city government will no longer have the authority to restrict firearms. Guns will be allowed into city halls, parks and other government facilities. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach sponsored the bill which was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. The new law will also subject local officials to a $5,000 fine if they fail to repeal ordinances that restrict where weapons are allowed. Gun owners can also sue for damages if they believe their right to carry guns is being violated by a local ordinance.
Palm Beach County
State and federal regulators, as well as Palm Beach County officials, are still evaluating a proposal to put electricity-producing wind turbines on the edge of the Everglades. Missouri-based Wind Capital Group intends to build 80 wind turbines on 16,000 acres of sugar cane land near Belle Glade. Each of the windmills will be 500 feet tall and generate enough electricity to power 400 homes. Environmental groups are opposed to the plan, saying the windmills, which rotate at 200 miles per hour, will kill migrating birds. County commissioners are scheduled to take a final vote on Aug. 29.
Boca Raton-based Office Depot’s CEO Neil Austrian has responded to criticism over his company’s relocating jobs to Guatemala and India while receiving tax breaks and subsidies from Palm Beach County and the state to create jobs here. The 2009 incentive agreement requires Office Depot to retain at least 1,750 employees and create 200 more jobs by 2014. The agreement allows Office Depot to collect up to $650,000 a year from the county. The company also receives millions from the state. But Palm Beach County officials estimate Office Depot has created only two jobs and will relocate 80 accounting jobs abroad. Austrian said the positions had to be outsourced for the company to remain competitive.
Boca Raton High School officials have been seizing and searching students’ cell phones for years. School officials randomly confiscate cell phones and then search them to see what text messages were sent and received. They also listen to voice mail messages. Students are required to provide their PIN numbers and those who do not are subject to disciplinary action. This ridiculous practice has caught the attention of the National Youth Rights Association based in Washington, D.C. The organization is calling on Principal Geoff McKee to end the practice. McKee has indicated he would consider the request, which is astonishing in itself. The school district should put McGee out to pasture.
Robert “Bob” Bates, director of the city of Fort Lauderdale’s Office of Professional Standards, has been fired. Assistant City Manager Stanley Hawthorne said it was simply time to “go in a different direction.” Bates oversaw complaints and investigations over alleged misconduct, discrimination and ethical lapses among city employees and managers. His last day was Aug. 4. Lillian Rosa has been named interim director.
At a time when the economy is on lifesupport and unemployment is at a record high, Deerfield Beach officials have implemented a 10 percent tax on electricity, water and gas. Former Mayor Jean Robb opposed it but current Mayor Peggy Noland argued it is fair. Deerfield was the only major city in Broward that did not have a utility tax and implementing one has taken away its advantage when luring new businesses. With the city’s fire assessment fees and now the utility tax, Deerfield Beach residents are steeped in fees and burdened with high taxes. This new tax is a mistake for this pathetically mismanaged city.
Homestead resident Emily Cappetta travelled to Hollywood on May 7 to attend a free concert on the broad walk at the city’s beach. Cappetta purchased a beer at a walk-up window from a restaurant. She was stopped by a police officer, threatened with jail and given a citation for drinking on the beach. At Cappetta’s court appearance, Broward County Judge Terri-Ann Miller fined her $10 and sentenced her to 20 hours of community service, which she must serve in Broward County. Cappetta says there were no signs posted about the beer ban and the restaurant that sold it should have informed her of the beer prohibition. I agree.
HIGH PRICE HIRES
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez campaigned on a promise to bring fiscal sanity to county government. Following his election, he cut his own salary but, at the same time, he began hiring staff and paying them inflated salaries with rich benefits. Russell Benford, the former city manager of West Park and North Miami Beach, has been hired as one of his five deputy mayors. The others are former Key Biscayne manager Chip Iglesias, former Miami city manager Ed Marquez, former Broward County administrator Jack Osterholt and Miami-Dade County Manager Alina Hudak. They are being paid salaries that range from $225,000 to $267,000 annually. So much for fiscal responsibility.
A group of activists is planning to kick off a recall of Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell. A Miami-Dade County commissioner must be in office for 100 days before any recall effort can begin. The group has been holding meetings and is set to begin the recall drive on Bell’s 101st day in office. Organizers are upset that Bell didn’t support reforms businessman Norman Braman advocated for and other issues.
Photo: Elgin Jones