Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Brevard NOW Social Mixer and Feminine Hygiene Product Drive

MELBOURNE, Florida -- Brevard NOW will hold its monthly social and networking mixer on Tuesday, April 22nd at 5:30 p.m. at Lexi's Martini and Tapas located on 924 E. New Haven Avenue in downtown Melbourne, Florida.


Attendees are encouraged to donate feminine products such as pads, tampons, and other personal hygiene products.


NOW will also be accepting cash donations to purchase products. All donations to benefit local homeless shelters.


Free and open to the public, cash bar.


More information, contact: [email protected] or 321-720-3520

Monday, April 21, 2014

Titusville Project Could Destroy Florida Scrub Jay Habitat

Florida Scrub Jay. Credit: Wikimedia
TITUSVILLE, Florida -- Although Florida and Brevard County taxpayers have spent more than $48 million to preserve natural lands in Brevard County to protect threatened and endangered species, the North Brevard Economic Development Zone (NBEDZ) is proposing that taxpayer money be used for a project that could destroy the habitat of the threatened Florida Scrub Jay and gopher tortoise.


On the agenda for the Tuesday, April 22, 2014 Titusville City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. is a request from NBEDZ for $50,000 for an engineering study to further develop Spaceport Commerce Park in an effort to attract more businesses to that site.


According to the January 2014 NBEDZ meeting minutes, an environmental consultant told the NBEDZ Board that the 178-acre Spaceport Commerce Park is comprised of 19 acres of occupied Scrub Jay habit.  Additionally, 43 gopher tortoises were identified on site in a recent survey.   


The environmental consultant estimated that it would cost $1,200 to permit and relocate a gopher tortoise plus $59,000 per acre to offset Scrub Jay habitat, and $85,000 per acre to offset wetland impacts.


UPDATE: 



At 5 minutes, 30 seconds into the above video, NBEDZ Executive Director Troy Post explained to the Council that NBEDZ had an environmental study done.


"We are all well aware of the Scrub Jay and also the Gopher Tortoise," Post said. "We were very encouraged by the report that we got back which determined that, because the area has grown up so much over the last 10 years, it has become a lot denser, a lot thicker with the underbrush, it has essentially erased the habitat for a lot of the Scrub Jays.  There are still Scrub Jays there, but it is a very small population."


"All the Gopher Tortoises are essentially along some of the roadways because they have to have open spaces where they can forage and find their food. So, we think the mitigation is not going to be as quite as bad as we feared," Post added. "There is one lot though, that is affected by a Scrub Jay family, and we will steer clear of that lot and try to develop around it."


Ultimately, the Council voted to direct City Staff to work with NBEDZ to create a more detailed proposal and draft contract that would later be brought back to the Council for consideration.

Some Brevard County Candidates Win By A Landslide In Straw Poll

MELBOURNE, Florida -- Some Brevard County candidates saw landslide victories from a straw poll that was held at the Brevard Tea Party 5th Anniversary Celebration last Saturday at Wickham Park in Melbourne, Florida.


Brevard County Commission candidates Michael Hartman and Curt Smith each received 95 votes in the District 2 and 4 races, respectively.  Hartman garnered more votes than all of his competitors combined in District 2.   


In the crowded District 4 race, Smith almost received as many votes as all of his competitors combined.


The School Board Districts 1 and 2 were much closer than the County Commission races. Paul Chinaris edged out Misty Belford 39 to 34 in District 1.  Kim Yarbrough won District 2 with 44 votes while John Craig came in second at 33 with Robert Mentillo a close third place finish at 31.



School Board District 5 was a different story.  There, Andy Ziegler received 80 votes - more than all of his competitors combined.



In the State Representative races, Steve Crisafulli topped out at 175 to Joseph Murray's 8 votes.  Meanwhile, incumbent John Tobia lossed out to Timothy Street 44 to 140.


The straw poll was conducted by Brevard County Supervisor of Elections Lori Scott. 


The full results for all races and candidates can be viewed here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

EDC Appeals Public Records Judgment


Brevard Clerk of Court Scott Ellis
TITUSVILLE, Florida -- The Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast (EDC) filed a notice of appeal on Friday which challenges the ruling handed down by Brevard County Circuit Court Judge John 'Dean' Moxley, Jr. that the EDC produce all records requested by Scott Ellis, in his official capacity as Brevard County Clerk of the Circuit Court, within thirty days.


The EDC also filed a motion which requests that Judge Moxley, Jr. issue a stay of his final judgment until the appeal is heard by the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, Florida.

 

"The EDC will be irreparably harmed if the status quo is not maintained and the EDC if required to comply with the Judgment...," the EDC's attorney, Kim Rezanka, wrote in the motion to stay. "... Such discovery includes, among other things, material protected by privilege, trade secrets, and work product..."


The EDC's motion gave little detail as to how the EDC would be harmed when the judgment already allows that, if the EDC believes certain records are not subject to inspection, the EDC "... provide a privilege or exemption log specifying the record and the basis for non-disclosure...." within 30 days.



According to the Florida's Public Records statute, "A stay order shall not be issued unless the court determines that there is a substantial probability that opening the records for inspection will result in significant damage."


EDC CEO Lynda Weatherman

Later that same day, Ellis' attorneys, Curt Jacobus and Kevin McBride, filed a cross-appeal which seeks attorneys fees from the EDC.



BACKGROUND:



BlueWare is the company caught up in a public corruption criminal case brought by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and State Attorney Phil Archer against former Clerk of Court, Mitch Needelman, his former business partner Matt Dupree, and BlueWare CEO Rose Harr


The EDC helped BlueWare and some of its affiliated companies to qualify for various government programs and other "workforce incentives" that could have totaled nearly $2 million in taxpayer money.   None of those incentives were ultimately awarded to BlueWare because it did not meet its performance benchmarks.

After the Clerk's office learned from a Brevard Times investigative article published on August 26, 2013 that State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity officials said the BlueWare's confidentiality had lapsed and Governor Rick Scott's Office stated to Brevard Times that the BlueWare incentive contract was canceled on April 5, 2013, the Clerk sent his auditors to the EDC in Rockledge the next day to request a copy of the EDC file on BlueWare.  When the EDC refused to comply with the public records request, Ellis then filed this lawsuit.


Brevard Times was the only news source to continue a series of in-depth investigative articles led by Charles Parker into this and related stories: 


RELATED STORIES:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hewlett-Packard Lawsuit Against Brevard Clerk of Court Dismissed


Scott Ellis
ORLANDO, Florida -- Earlier today, U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell approved a U.S. Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation that Hewlett-Packard Financial Service’s lawsuit against the current Brevard County Clerk of the Circuit Court, Scott Ellis, for non-payment of a $6.1 million loan be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.  The dismissal allows Hewlett-Packard to refile its action in Florida state court. 


Former Brevard County Clerk of Court Mitch Needelman entered into the $6.1 million loan after losing the primary election in 2012 to fulfill the funding of a scanning contract that is tied to the criminal case brought by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement against Needelman, his business partner Matt DuPree, and BlueGEM CEO Rose Harr.  BlueGEM was a direct recipient of $5.7 million of the loan.   


Ellis continues to assert that the loan done by Needelman, BlueGEM, Harr, and Hewlett-Packard was illegal and unconstitutional. Ellis reaffirmed that he would continue to defend that position should Hewlett-Packard refile its claim in state court.



Mitch Needelman
Hewlett-Packard also alleged in the lawsuit that Caruso, Swerbilow & Camerota, P.A., a Merritt Island, Florida law firm, engaged in  “professional malpractice, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty” after the lawfirm had “provided a legal opinion letter verifying that the Clerk had the power and authority” to borrow funds to pay BlueGem for the scanning contract.   BlueGEM, and Harr were also parties to the suit. 


Brevard Times was the only news source to continue a series of in-depth investigative articles led by Charles Parker into this and related stories: 

 
RELATED STORIES:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Brevard Tea Party 5th Anniversary Celebration

MELBOURNE, Florida -- The 2014 Brevard Tea Party 5th Anniversary Celebration will be held on Saturday, April 19th, from noon-3pm at the Wickham Park Event Pavilion next to Eastern Florida State College.


The event is hosted by the Brevard Tea Party.  Local Conservative Talk Radio Station WMMB AM is sponsoring the event.


The 2014 Brevard Tea Party Fifth Anniversary Celebration will allow voters to engage with candidates at the local and state, as well as members of local grassroots clubs. 


A straw poll will be conducted by Brevard Supervisor of Elections Lori Scott.  


Admission is free to the public; food and drinks will be available for purchase. 


For more information, visit here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Florida Men Charged With $32 Million 'Obama Phone' Fraud


 
TAMPA, Florida —Three men have been indicted for their alleged roles in an approximately $32 million fraud against a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program designed to provide discounted telephone services to low-income customers, the F.B.I., U.S. Department of Justice, I.R.S., and F.C.C.  announced last Thursday.


Thomas E. Biddix, 44, of Melbourne, Florida; Kevin Brian Cox, 38, of Arlington, Tennessee; and Leonard I. Solt, 49, of Land O’Lakes, Florida, were charged by a criminal indictment returned on April 9, 2014, and unsealed on April 10 in federal court in Tampa, Florida.


The indictment charges the three men with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 15 substantive counts of wire fraud, false claims, and money laundering. The court also authorized a seizure warrant seeking the defendants’ ill-gotten gains, including the contents of multiple bank accounts, a yacht, and several luxury automobiles.


The indictment also alleges that the defendants owned and operated Associated Telecommunications Management Services LLC (ATMS), a holding company that owned and operated multiple subsidiary telephone companies that participated in the Lifeline Program.  Biddix, chairman of the board at ATMS, and Cox and Solt allegedly caused the submission of falsely inflated claims to the Lifeline Program between September 2009 and March 2011 that resulted in ATMS fraudulently receiving more than $32 million.


Federal authorities allege in the indictment that the men engaged in a scheme to submit false claims with the federal Lifeline Program administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, a not-for-profit corporation designated and authorized by the FCC.
 


Another Black Eye for Brevard County

Biddix is also alleged to have used the Lifeline government subsidy to pay a portion of salaries for employees of another company, Telecom Sevice Center (TSC) of Rockledge, Florida, that temporarily had over 90% of those wages paid by Brevard Workforce through an Obama administration federal grant known as "Florida Back To Work" at the height of the recession. 


Allegedly, Biddix was prohibited from using federal money from the Lifeline program for TSC's remaining portion of those salaries subsidized by another government program.


Although publicly available information in early 2010 showed that ATMS was already under investigation for "atypical monthly growth in the amount of Lifeline disbursements received by ATMS companies" by the Florida Public Service Commission, the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast (EDC) and Brevard Workforce pushed through the "Florida Back To Work" grant money for TSC later that year.  EDC records show that Biddix was an EDC Board Member during that time and also belonged to the EDC Executive Committee.


"This is just one more great example of how collective efforts can bring employment prospects and economic diversity to the Space Coast through the partnership of our community leaders and the Economic Development Commission,”  said Brevard County Commissioner Mary Bolin in a September 2010 EDC press release about the TSC taxpayer subsidy.


Brevard Workforce, the organization that administered the grant to TSC, remains under investigation since 2011 by the U.S. Department of Labor for possible cronyism involving the award of federal grant contracts to companies connected with Brevard Workforce board members.  EDC President and CEO Lynda Weatherman, Brevard County Deputy Manager Stockton Whitten,  and Brevard Public School Superintendent Dr. Brian Bingelli are among Brevard Workforce's Board of Directors.


Biddix is the second corporate officer in less than a year that has been brought up on criminal charges related to a company lured to Brevard County by the EDC with taxpayer dollars.  Last August, BlueWare CEO Rose Harr turned herself in on an outstanding warrant in connection with bribery charges related to a multimillion dollar scanning contract involving former Brevard County Clerk of Court Mitch Needelman.


Brevard Times sought statements from both the EDC and Brevard Workforce regarding their involvement with the companies named in the federal criminal case.  Neither have responded as of the time of this publication.


SIMILAR STORIES:

Tracfone Defends New 'Obama Phone' Broadband Subsidy

Free School Lunch In Florida For Some Kids Who Can Afford It

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Brevard County Manager Leaving for St. Lucie County




Tipton
ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Florida -- Brevard County Manager Howard Tipton notified Brevard County Commissioners this morning that he has been selected and approved as the next St. Lucie County Administrator.


"As you know with my impending departure from Brevard County planned for later this year, I had begun to look for what the next chapter in my career would be," Tipton wrote to the Brevard County Commissioners.  "Well I never anticipated that things would come together so fast, but in God’s good time, it appears this next chapter will occur as the County Administrator for St. Lucie county which is the county just south of Indian River county.  Their county commission approved my selection this morning and the next step in the process will be to work out an acceptable employment contract."


Although I don’t know yet what date I will be leaving, it will be well in advance of my originally planned September 30th date," Tipton continued.  "Please know that I will continue to work with Stockton and the entire administrative team to ensure a smooth transition and that I have no doubts about the leadership I leave behind.  Brevard  County could not be in better hands."

Last July, Tipton proposed that the Brevard County Commission designate Deputy County Manager Stockton Whitten as "County Manager In Waiting" following Tipton's announcement that he will retire from Brevard County in the fall of 2014.
 


Whitten
But all of the Brevard County residents who spoke at last year's Commission meeting about the succession plan were opposed to it.  "This succession plan is totally out of order," said Merritt Island resident John Weiler.  "I recommend that you accept Tipton's resignation immediately.  He [Mr. Whitten] should compete for it."


Commissioner Chuck Nelson disagreed with the residents and said that FLORIDA TODAY "got it right" in the paper's editorial in support of Tipton's succession plan.


Upset at what she sees as paying two people for the same position, Commissioner Trudie Infantini was the only one who voted against Tipton's plan.  "It doesn't seem to be to the best interest of the taxpayer to pay for 15 months salary, plus 6 months severance pay on top of that, plus annual leave, sick leave, retirement and health benefits - its too much for the taxpayer to bear," said Infantini.

FDEP: Stormwater Unlikely Cause of Indian River Lagoon Superbloom

BREVARD COUNTY, Florida -- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) said that it "does not believe the nutrient loads from specific stormwater and wastewater discharges were the culprit for the Super Bloom" in the Indian River Lagoon.


This statement from FDEP comes after a Brevard Times inquiry into a seeming conflict with government research and publications regarding the cause of nutrient loads in the Indian River Lagoon, the algal Superbloom of 2011-12, and seagrass loss.


An excerpt from FDEP's 2013 BASIN MANAGEMENT ACTION PLAN  stated:

 
"The median depth limits for seagrass coverage in the BRL subbasin decreased over the years due to changes in water quality conditions resulting from anthropogenic influences. As polluted runoff reached the lagoon, it created conditions that prevented the seagrass from growing in deeper water."


But according to the Saint John's River Management District's  (SJRWMD) Indian River Lagoon 2011 Superbloom Investigation, stormwater and wastewater discharges were unlikely causes for the algal Superbloom that caused large-scale seagrass loss:
 
 
"It was more surprising that the event even happened at all given the long-term drought conditions during the 2009 – 2011 period [and the] decreasing trend in treated wastewater discharges... drought means comparatively little rainfall-runoff...The other major external sources – atmospheric and groundwater – are similarly affected by rainfall and would be diminished during the same period. Therefore; notwithstanding some unreported nutrient-laden discharge, an internal flux of nutrients may be the primary mechanism that fueled the bloom. " (Emphasis added).



FDEP explained in an email to Brevard Times the reason for the seeming conflict:


"While the Basin Management Action Plan for the Indian River Lagoon Basin Banana River Lagoon was published in 2013, the excerpt provided is referencing a long-term trend used to establish total maximum daily load (TMDL) standards in 2009. The excerpt does not reference and is not in reference to the Super Bloom." (Emphasis added).


"The SJRWMD excerpt is referencing a specific trend from 2009 – 2011. It is also commenting on stormwater and wastewater discharges and noting that they as specific discharge events are not believed to be the triggers directly causing the Super Bloom.  
(Emphasis added).


Stating that anthropogenic influences impact water quality is not at odds with stating that stormwater and wastewater discharges are unlikely causes for the specified algal Super Bloom.  The Indian River Lagoon has been impacted by anthropogenic actions and sources of nutrients for many decades.  A part of the load of these nutrients is stored within the Lagoon as a legacy source of nutrients." 


"The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) created an IRL 2011 Consortium to conduct a comprehensive data analyses to examine the possible causes," FDEP added.  "So far, no consensus has been reached among scientists on the exact causes.  The results of investigations will probably not be fully known till 2016 or 2017."


Nutrients Produced by Manatees in the IRL


FDEP also addressed the effect of the increased manatee population on the nutrient load in the Indian River Lagoon which many Brevard County waterfront property owners, boaters, and anglers blame for the Lagoon's plight.



Graphic Credit: SJRMD.  Tropical Storm Fay, Florida Fish and Wildlife Manatee Count, Coldest Winter,  and Superbloom added by Brevard Times

As the above graphic shows, the manatee count on Florida's East Coast has nearly doubled since 2007 (the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission cautions that the published manatee survey count provides a minimum count of manatees, but it does not provide an accurate population estimate).


"At the time the seagrass TMDLs were developed [in 2009], manatees were not considered as major nutrient contributors to the Indian River Lagoon because not all the data needed to quantify the manatee nutrient contribution were available.  It is worth noting that manatees have been part of the Indian River Lagoon ecosystem for a long time," FDEP stated.
 

"Based on the Department’s Nutrient and Dissolved Oxygen TMDLs for the Indian River Lagoon and Banana River Lagoon report (FDEP, 2009), the long-term annual average TN [Total Nitrogen] and TP [Total Phosphorous] loads entering the Indian River Lagoon system are about 1511 tons and 216 tons, respectively.  The 25 to 109 tons of TN and 2 to 7 tons of TP contributed by manatees only account for about 1.7% to 6.7% of TN loads and 0.7% to 3.0% of TP loads entering the Indian River Lagoon system."



"We have at least got [FDEP's] attention to the subject," Citizens for Florida's Waterways President Bob Atkins said of FDEP's analysis of the manatee's nutrient impact on the Indian River Lagoon.  "My conclusion is that seagrass loss is worse [from manatee consumption] than I have calculated and free nutrients are not as bad."


SIMILAR STORIES:
 

Will Increased Sewer Fees Help the Indian River Lagoon or Jeopardize Brevard School Tax?

2014 Florida Manatee Count 3rd Highest On Record

Fukushima Radiation and America's Aquatic Dustbowl

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Brevard School Board Will Not List School Closures


VIERA, Florida -- At the April 8, 2014 Brevard County Public School Board Meeting, School Board Member Andy Ziegler explained why he has chosen not to name Brevard County schools that would close if the half-cent sales tax does not pass in November.


Ziegler said that he was concerned about the effect naming schools would have on the productivity of students and staff at any school that was slated for closure.