elgin_jones_web_13.jpgLOTTERY ILLS
State legislators say Florida Lottery profits declined by $41 million last year and net revenue could fall another $106 million this year. Lottery Secretary Cynthia O'Connell reacted by saying she will continue to explore ways to streamline costs and boost revenue. Perhaps lowering the overall odds of the games and making jackpots an attainable dream might push more people to take a chance.

Blockbuster Video, which originally was founded in Fort Lauderdale by billionaire H. Wayne Huizenga and later sold and its headquarters relocated to Dallas, is in bankruptcy and up for sale. The company announced the closing of 145 stores, three of which are in Broward and one in Miami-Dade. Blockbuster has seen its share of the video rental market plummet with the increasingly popular online and mail order services like Netflix. The company said as many as 865 jobs will be cut as it attempts to find a buyer.

The economy is showing signs of improvement but the immediate financial situation is a mess. Just as local officials are doing with their budgets, Gov. Rick Scott is proposing steep cuts in the state’s spending plan. Broward County is cutting services and closing parks and will surely turn the lights off at some libraries. There are echoes of the same from municipalities throughout the state but none of them are discussing uniform, across-the-board salary and benefits cuts that would include employees, administrators and elected officials. Instead, the lowest paid government workers and taxpayers are being targeted. One area that could save large chunks of money is the practice of providing police and government employees with take-home vehicles. It is not a necessity, just a convenience paid for by taxpayers. Hopefully, officials, including the governor, will review the practice prior to raising any taxes or cutting jobs.

Palm Beach County

Robb & Stucky’s, the luxury furniture chain, is going out of business and has begun liquidating merchandise in its stores. The company has 20 stores in Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Florida — including one in Boca Raton and one in Palm Beach Gardens. The chain is closing after 95 years and will lay off 380 employees, including 178 at its corporate headquarters in Ft. Meyers.

Jeri Muoio was certified as the winner in the West Palm Beach mayoral race, but not without controversy. More than 200 residents of the Haverhill community that was annexed into the city in 1971 were mistakenly assigned to precincts in unincorporated Palm Beach County. As a result, they were not allowed to vote in the West Palm Beach mayoral contest. Second-place finisher Paula Ryan would need 215 votes of the estimated 224 available from that area to force a run-off. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher decided to certify the results anyway. A group of those disenfranchised citizens has now filed a lawsuit seeking a new election that would include all eligible voters.

Democratic state Rep. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth is pushing a bill that would authorize a voter referendum on medical marijuana. Clemens says revenue from the sale of marijuana for medicinal use would generate millions of dollars in revenue.

Stephen Goldberg, 17, of Jupiter has been charged in the Valentine's Day shooting of two people at an apartment complex. Goldberg was charged with two counts of murder for allegedly shooting Christian Avellaneda, 15, and Joshua Peterson, 18. Police say Goldberg and a group of teens arrived at the complex to fight over a dispute and shots rang out.

Steven Weiner, 33, was arrested and charged after being accused of shoving an elderly woman over a slice of bread. The alleged incident occurred at a Publix Supermarket in Jupiter, where Weiner was standing in line behind the woman to get a free sample of the bread a store clerk was serving customers. Weiner and the woman exchanged words and he reacted allegedly by pushing her out of the way and punching her in the arm. Clearly, this guy needs
some help. 

Broward County

Broward Workshop, a non-profit business organization, will commission a comparative study of private and public sector pay and benefits in the county. Gov. Rick Scott praised the coming study and that may not bode well for public sector unions. The study will likely find that pay for police, for example, is much higher than that of private security officers. Hopefully, the study will also include the slew of over-paid management-level positions in countless public agencies. Nonetheless, the study’s results will undoubtedly be used as a basis to reduce public employees’ pay and benefits, while, at the same time, limiting the influence of unions.

Pembroke Pines is the latest municipality to question whether installing red light cameras was worth it. City officials there say the cameras installed at four intersections are costing them money instead of generating revenue. Motorists are increasingly challenging the tickets in court, and more often than not, cities are losing. Officials in Fort Lauderdale are dealing with similar problems with their network of red light cameras not generating the expected revenue. City Attorney Harry Stewart acknowledged that the city has not won a single case when motorists challenge the video as evidence, but he said those issues should be resolved soon.

Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith has sent the state inspector general to monitor the Broward School District’s plan to address the devastating findings of a recent grand jury. That report found rampant corruption and waste and it also said Superintendent Jim Notter is incapable of leading the district. Smith’s action is a welcome move but not nearly enough. Notter should resign or be fired. Gov. Rick Scott should give serious consideration to removing several school board members for incompetence and malfeasance. Then he should seat an oversight commission to monitor district operations.

Blogger Chaz Stevens has done it again. This time Stevens has bagged former Deerfield Beach City Commissioner Gloria Battle. Based on complaints filed by Stevens, prosecutors with the Broward State Attorney’s Office checked and confirmed that Battle had a voting conflict. BSAO said, however, that the issue did not amount to a crime and brought no charges against her. Stevens had alleged that Battle had a business relationship with the non-profit Haitian American Consortium organization. Battle voted on a measure to grant city funds to several organizations and the Haitian American Consortium was one of them. Stevens’ work has led to several Deerfield Beach officials being criminally charged and others being under investigation. Stevens has an off-beat sense of humor, but he has been right on target and he deserves credit for his efforts.

Lauderdale Lakes is broke and city commissioners have voted to seek help from Gov. Rick Scott. The city is facing a $4.6 million shortfall and has not paid the Broward Sheriff's Office for law enforcement services in months. Its reserves have been depleted and the city will likely be absorbed into another municipality. Lauderdale Lakes has been on a financial collision course for at least the last decade, fueled by a few inept city officials. The city had an opportunity to achieve financial stability by annexing several unincorporated central Broward neighborhoods, but that effort was thwarted by some city commissioners and former Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion. The annexation referendum failed, leaving the city without a tax base to support itself. Lauderdale Lakes is bordered by the cities of Tamarac, Lauderhill and Fort Lauderdale. Tamarac does not want them; Lauderhill may consider annexation and Fort Lauderdale may be interested. But, for all practical purposes, Lauderdale Lakes has been run into the ground, so get ready to say goodbye.

Miami-Dade County

Jesus Alvarez, 41, has been apprehended after being on the run for over a week. He was being sought for allegedly beating up his girlfriend, Margarita Blanco, and then setting her on fire. The outrageous attack happened after the two argued at Blanco’s home, located in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, police say.  Blanco died the next day from her injuries.

Yoss LLP, the law firm that was previously known as Adorno and Yoss, will close by the end of the month. The Coral Gables-based firm was once one of South Florida’s largest, with offices spread around the country. Yoss LLP had been dogged by scandal during the past several years and that was heightened after founding partner Hank Adorno was disbarred last year. The other founding partner, George Yoss, has been attempting to get the firm back on sound footing, but bankers pulled financing this week, which resulted in the decision to dissolve the firm.