Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Florida Governor Rick Scott To Visit Cape Canaveral


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – Florida Governor Rick Scott will continue his two-week statewide "Jobs for the Next Generation" tour on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the Craig Technologies building located at 8550 Astronaut Boulevard in Cape Canaveral, Florida.


It is expected that Governor Scott will propose permanently ending the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment as well as offering Florida’s best STEM teachers paid summer residencies at private-sector companies.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cocoa Beach To Consider Banning Alcohol on Beaches

Beachgoers enjoy a cold one at the end of Minuteman Causeway in Cocoa Beach. Florida.  Brevard Times File.


COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- City of Cocoa Beach Commissioners will consider options to tame rowdy behavior at the end of Minuteman Causeway, including possibly banning alcohol from that stretch of beach, during the Downtown Cocoa Beach Community Redevelopment Agency meeting at 6 p.m. tonight at City Hall.  



The beach party spot favored by many day-trippers from neighboring Orange, Seminole, and Osceola Counties has Cocoa Beach residents divided on the issue. 


Some residents complain of public urination, trash, traffic congestion, vandalism and drunk drivers while other residents say that it is just a few bad apples and that the laws already on the books should be enforced rather than adding more regulations. 


The economic costs and benefits also have the beach town divided.  Day-trippers spend money on parking, food, and alcohol at nearby businesses.  But some residents believe that the City's costs associated with the day-trippers (police, fire rescue, trash pickup, and wasted gas on congested city streets) outweigh those economic benefits.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Brevard County Commission District 4 Primary Viewer Poll

BREVARD COUNTY, Florida -- The Brevard Times Brevard County Commission District 4 Republican primary viewer poll started today and will continue until July 22, 2014.


District 4 includes Satellite Beach, Indian Harbour Beach, Eau Gallie, Palm Shores, and portions of Rockledge, Viera, Melbourne, and the southern tip of Merritt Island.


There is no Democratic primary for this election because there is only one Democrat that qualified in the District 4 race. 


The Primary Election will be held on August 26, 2014.



Like a straw poll, the viewer poll is unscientific and cannot be given any weight as to how voters will actually vote come election day.   However, it can indicate the level of energy and enthusiasm political activists have for a particular candidate in the race.


Here is a list of the District 4 Republican candidates along with their campaign website information:


David Armstrong
Richard Charbonneau
Greg Jones
Bill Klein

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Former Clerk of Court Wants Rat List From Florida State Attorney



Mitch Needelman
SANFORD, Florida -- It could soon be known just how many local political power-players would have been implicated in the BlueWare scandal if they hadn't struck a deal with Florida's 18th Judicial Circuit State Attorney, Phil Archer. 


That's because the attorney for former Brevard County Clerk of Court, Mitch Needelman, has filed a motion to "Compel Disclosure of Existence and Substance of Promises of Immunity, Leniency, or Preferential Treatment" in the criminal case where Needelman is charged with bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, bid tampering, official misconduct, unlawful campaign contributions, and entering into a contract as a result of bid tampering.

The hearing is set for August 25, 2014 in Sanford, Florida.  The case was transferred from Brevard County to Seminole County due to, in most part, Brevard Times' investigative coverage of the alleged scandal over the last two years leading up to the arrests and prosecution of Needelman and his co-defendants, BlueWare CEO Rose Harr and lobbyist Matt DuPree.



RELATED STORIES:

News Associations To File Legal Briefs In Florida Sunshine Law Case

Economic Development Key Issue This Election Year

Former Brevard County Clerk of Court, Business Partner Arrested - Warrant Issued for Blueware CEO

Brevard County Commission District 2 Candidate Forum

MELBOURNE, Florida -- The Brevard Federated Republican Women will host a forum for Brevard County Commission District 2 candidates on Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at the Holiday Inn located at 8298 N. Wickham Road in Melbourne, Florida.


District 2 includes Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Port Canaveral, Cape Canaveral, Avon by the Sea, Cocoa Beach, Snug Harbor, portions of Cocoa and Rockledge and Patrick Air Force Base.


The room opens at 11:00 a.m. with social networking.  The program begins at 11:30 a.m.


Reservations are necessary by Friday, July 25th at noon to select luncheon choice.  Call for reservations and information at 321-727-1212.  


Visit brevardfederatedrepublicanwomen.org for further information on club activities.



All Republican women and men are invited with a special invitation to Republican women and men who are new to the area and those interested in learning more about Republican activities and issues in the community.

News Associations To File Legal Briefs In Florida Sunshine Law Case

Ellis
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida -- Several news associations will ask Florida's 5th District Court of Appeal for leave to file legal briefs in the Florida Sunshine Act's Public Records Law appellate case between the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast (EDC) and Brevard County Clerk of Court, Scott Ellis.


The EDC, a private entity contracted with Brevard County to promote economic development within the County, is appealing a judgment handed down in April by Brevard County Circuit Court Judge, John Dean Moxley, Jr., who ruled that the EDC is indeed a public agency subject to Florida public records law and must produce its documents related to BlueWare to Ellis.


"Economic development and nurturing economic advances promulgated by the Chambers of Commerce are appropriate governmental functions...," Moxley reasoned in his Final Judgment.  "...the scope of the contract delegated economic development of Brevard County to the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, Inc.  Accordingly, any records generated in carrying out those duties are public records subject to inspection." 


The Florida Press Association, Associated Press, Lakeland Ledger, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, and Florida First Amendment Foundation will seek to jointly file what is known as an amicus curiae brief - which means "friend of the court" - because those organizations are not actual parties to the lawsuit. 



"The [economic development commissions] receive millions of dollars in public funds and many, if not most, work on behalf of the state and local governments to promote economic growth and development," said  Florida First Amendment Foundation President, Barbara Petersen.  "It's our position that the public has a right - and the need - to know how their tax dollars are being spent and why, and what those dollars are being spent on.  That's the purposes of our open government laws - accountability and transparency."


Just last week, Brevard County Commissioners voted 4-1 that County Attorney Scott Knox file an amicus brief in support of the EDC's position that it is not a public agency.  Commissioner Trudie Infantini was the sole "no" vote.


"My office has always maintained that the EDC is subject to the Public Records laws under certain circumstances within the scope of the contract," Knox wrote in an email to Brevard Times.  "But the contract specifically says the EDC was retained as an independent contractor, not as an agent or agency of  the County.  The Court ruling states that the County delegated its economic development function to the EDC, however, it is clear to me that is not what happened."


"In my opinion, the Court’s ruling is overly broad and will hamstring the EDC, thereby putting Brevard County at a competitive disadvantage vis a vis other counties and cities in Florida, not to mention states such Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia and California, to name just a few,"  Knox said. 


Weatherman
"This litigation and ruling will be precedent-setting for the State of Florida and every economic development organization working for jobs and capital investment as this ruling could jeopardize effectiveness as well as damaging the State of Florida's reputation in economic development," EDC President Lynda Weatherman told Commissioners.  "It's not just investment in Brevard County, no one will invest in the State of Florida."

 
But the State of Florida's top economic development department appears not to be climbing the same wall of worry expressed by Weatherman and Knox.  "At this time, DEO has no plans to file a brief," Florida Department of Economic Opportunity spokesperson, Jessica Sims, said earlier this month.


The EDC isn't finding much public support in the case from its state level counterpart, Enterprise Florida, either.  Enterprise Florida wouldn't confirm whether or not it was going to file a brief in support of the EDC.



BACKGROUND:

Former Brevard County Clerk of Court Mitch Needelman entered into a $6.1 million loan with Hewlett Packard after losing the primary election to Ellis in 2012.  Needelman then used the loan proceeds as an upfront payment to BlueWare before the company ever fulfilled its scanning contract with the Clerk's office.   


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.  


Ellis continues to assert that the loan done by Needelman, BlueGEM, Harr, and Hewlett-Packard was illegal and unconstitutional in repeated legal actions brought by HP against the Clerk's Office for repayment of the loan. 


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.   In 2013, Ellis repeatedly requested that the EDC turn over its BlueWare documents so that he could defend the lawsuits brought by HP. However, the EDC refused to hand over all of its BlueWare documents to Ellis.


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 that 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 that last public records request, Ellis then filed the lawsuit which is now on appeal.


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:  



Former Clerk's Digitizing Contract Under More Scrutiny  Jan. 19, 2013


Ellis and Weatherman At Odds Over BlueWare Documents  Feb. 5, 2013


EDC Subpoenaed By FDLE February 28, 2013

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Florida wins $7 million for wasting $47 million in food stamp funds



By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog


MIAMI — Florida once again is getting a hefty bonus — $7 million to be exact — from the feds for “saving” taxpayers money.

This year, the state’s Department of Children and Families managed to misspend only $47,829,887 in food stamp benefits. That’s out of almost $6 billion the state received from the federal government.


Nevertheless, Florida’s error rate of .81 percent is the second lowest in the nation, and only a slight dip from the previous year when the state received $8 million for having the lowest in the nation at 0.7 percent. Vermont had the highest waste rate at 9.66 percent, while the national average was 3.2 percent.


“We are pleased Florida is again being recognized as a leader for quality and accuracy in processing food assistance applications,” DCF Interim Secretary Mike Carroll said in a statement. “The department is committed to helping individuals in crisis and being able to quickly assist families and individuals in need of these resources is one of our principal functions.


“This is the seventh year in a row that DCF’s improvements and accuracy in correctly processing food assistance applications has received accolades and bonus money from the federal government, totaling more than $54 million.”


Read More at Watchdog.org

State of Florida To Sue Failed Digital Domain

Crist                                     Scott


 
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Governor Rick Scott’s General Counsel Peter Antonacci announced on Wednesday that outside legal counsel has been retained by the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to file suit against Digital Domain and related parties.


In March 2013, the Florida Chief Inspector General issued a report on the 2009 incident where Florida improperly provided $20 million in incentive funding to Digital Domain under the premise that 500 jobs would be created in St. Lucie County. 


Digital Domain ultimately created zero jobs and filed for bankruptcy in September 2012.    DEO then asked legislators to earmark $500,000 to hire outside counsel to try to recoup at least some of the $20 million in incentives doled out by the state to Digital Domain, the animation company created by Titanic director James Cameron.


Florida is in line with other creditors, though, joining a growing list that includes local and county governments that provided more than $60 million total in land, buildings and other incentives to lure the company to South Florida in 2009 when Charlie Crist was Governor.


“The IG investigation into the 2009 Digital Domain deal revealed that the usual state regulatory processes were circumvented to give Digital Domain tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, General Counsel Peter Antonacci said in a release.  "The collapse of the Digital Domain project, which was promoted by the previous Administration, then left Florida taxpayers on the hook. The state has hired outside counsel to identify any and all legal action available against the company and any other individuals involved in wrongdoing related to this bad deal. We expect to announce specific legal action in the coming weeks.”


SIMILAR STORIES:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Brevard County Commission Votes To File Legal Brief Against Clerk of Court


Ellis
VIERA, Florida -- Brevard County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Tuesday that County Attorney Scott Knox file a legal brief in support of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast (EDC)'s appeal which contends that the EDC is not a public agency subject to the Florida Sunshine Act's Public Records Law.  Commissioner Trudie Infantini was the sole no vote.


The EDC is asking Florida's 5th District Court of Appeal to overturn a judgment handed down in April by Brevard County Circuit Court Judge, John Dean Moxley, Jr., who ruled that the EDC is indeed a public agency subject to Florida public records law and must produce its documents related to BlueWare to Brevard County Clerk of Court, Scott Ellis.


Knox's office will file what is known as an amicus curiae brief, which means "friend of the Court," because the County cannot be a party to the appellate case when the County did not appear as a party during the lower court case.  

Weatherman

"This litigation and ruling will be precedent-setting for the State of Florida and every economic development organization working for jobs and capital investment as this ruling could jeopardize effectiveness as well as damaging the State of Florida's reputation in economic development," EDC President Lynda Weatherman said to Commissioners.  "It's not just investment in Brevard County, no one will invest in the State of Florida."


But the State of Florida's top economic development department appears not to be climbing the same wall of worry expressed by Weatherman.  "At this time, DEO has no plans to file a brief," Florida Department of Economic Opportunity spokesperson, Jessica Sims, said last week .


The EDC isn't finding much public support in the case from its state level counterpart, Enterprise Florida, either.  Enterprise Florida wouldn't confirm whether or not it was going to file a brief in support of the EDC.


"I am disappointed that the EDC society, or association, or whatever it is, that thinks that this thing is a disadvantage isn't taking a bigger position on this issue," Commissioner Robin Fisher said to Weatherman.  "And I believe that your board and Lynda, you guys need to make them start -  if it is really gonna affect the whole state - then Brevard doesn't have to lead the charge.  I think the association of EDCs oughta be leading the charge on these issues about whether it is public record or not public record."


"I don't care if you [Mr. Knox] file it [the amicus brief]," said Ellis at the Commission meeting.  "I don't think it matters when you are up at the 5th DCA level."


One of Ellis' staff members, Tyler Winik, told the Commission that the Clerk's office has been in contact with organizations that may file amicus briefs in support of Ellis' position. 



RELATED STORIES:

Brevard County Attorney Wants To File Legal Brief Supporting EDC


Economic Development Key Issue This Election Year

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Brevard County Attorney Wants To File Legal Brief Supporting EDC



Brevard Clerk of Court Scott Ellis
VIERA, Florida -- Brevard County taxpayers could soon be paying for not just two, but three separate legal bills in a public records lawsuit between Brevard County Clerk of Court, Scott Ellis, and the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast (EDC).

That's because Brevard County Attorney Scott Knox has placed on the County Commission's July 8th Agenda a request to file a legal brief with Florida's 5th District Court of Appeal in support of the EDC's appeal which contends that it is not a public agency subject to the Florida Sunshine Act's Public Records Law.


EDC CEO Lynda Weatherman
The EDC is appealing a judgment handed down in April by Brevard County Circuit Court Judge, John Dean Moxley, Jr., who ruled that the EDC is indeed a public agency subject to Florida public records law and must produce its documents related to BlueWare to Ellis.


"Economic development and nurturing economic advances promulgated by the Chambers of Commerce are appropriate governmental functions...," Moxley reasoned in his Final Judgment.  "...the scope of the contract delegated economic development of Brevard County to the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, Inc.  Accordingly, any records generated in carrying out those duties are public records subject to inspection."

 
When asked why the County Attorney's wants to file a brief in support of the EDC's position when the contract between the EDC and the County specifically requires that the EDC's documents are subject to Florida's Public Records Law, County Attorney Scott Knox said:

 "My office has always maintained that the EDC is subject to the Public Records laws under certain circumstances within the scope of the contract.  But the contract specifically says the EDC was retained as an independent contractor, not as an agent or agency of  the County.  The Court ruling states that the County delegated its economic development function to the EDC, however, it is clear to me that is not what happened.


In my opinion, the Court’s ruling is overly broad and will hamstring the EDC, thereby putting Brevard County at a competitive disadvantage vis a vis other counties and cities in Florida, not to mention states such Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia and California, to name just a few." 


But the State of Florida's top economic development department appears not to be climbing the same wall of worry expressed by Knox.  "At this time, DEO has no plans to file a brief," said Florida Department of Economic Opportunity spokesperson, Jessica Sims.


The EDC isn't finding much support in the case from its state level counterpart, Enterprise Florida, either.   Brevard Times asked only one question from Enterprise Florida, "Does Enterprise Florida intend to file an Amicus Brief in the 5th DCA case?"  Enterprise Florida spokesperson, Sean Helton, didn't answer yes or no, but responded as follows:



"As Florida’s lead economic development organization, Enterprise Florida is committed to bringing new jobs to the state. With our partners at the Department of Economic Opportunity and CareerSource Florida, and our 67 economic development stakeholders, we are actively pursuing projects in and out of the state, nationally and globally, large and small, to create jobs for Floridians. We know economic development works in our state and will continue to responsibly use the tools available to encourage the establishment, expansion and retention of business in Florida.


Florida has some of the best compliance and metrics of its incentive program anywhere in the country, and accountability measures are in place to ensure taxpayers receive a return on their investment.


Since 1995, there have been more than 1,600 economic development transactions representing 1,100 projects. Eighteen total projects have returned more than $14 million in incentive funding as a result of clawbacks and sanctions. Many of these same projects still positively impacted the state economy by contributing hundreds of new jobs and millions in capital investments.

 

Just three separate projects fall under the definition of “failure,” meaning that state funds were paid, no jobs were created and no money was returned to the state. They were all Quick Action Closing Fund projects, and represent less than one percent of all incentive transactions. This results in a 99% success rate for this program.


The Department of Economic Opportunity’s portal provides unprecedented transparency to economic development incentive information – posting information 48 hours after it is no longer confidential."


Knox is requesting that his office file an amicus curiae brief, which means "friend of the Court", because the County cannot be a party to the appellate case when the County did not appear as a party during the lower court case.  When asked why Knox waited so long to request filing the brief after the Final Judgment was entered back in April, Knox said:


"The County did not participate in the lawsuit and it was not until I had a chance to review the transcript that the error in the Court’s ruling became evident.  That transcript was not in our hands until the first week in June and the County Commission was in recess for the entire month of June, so I could not ask if the Board had an interest in filing an amicus curiae brief until July 8. "


“The Court’s ruling does not hamstring anybody," Ellis said in response to Knox's legal opinion.  "F.S. 288.075 provides confidentiality to client lists, trade secrets, etc.  If the County truly believed that work done under county auspices and funding, such as the Blueware project, was subject to public records why did the County not file an Amicus brief to the trial court in favor of the Clerk of Courts?  The hearing was in Titusville, why did the County Attorney’s Office not bother to send an attorney to view the proceedings?"
 

County Commissioner Trudie Infantini was inquisitive as to why Knox is making such a request when last year, the Brevard County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to request that the EDC relinquish its documents regarding BlueWare to Ellis so that he could continue his research and investigation into BlueWare's dealings with former Clerk of Court Mitch Needelman.


"The Commission voted August 20, 2013 to demand all legally permissible documents be turned over, Infantini said.  "Yet, 11 months later our County Attorney prepares his own agenda item overruling the decision of the County Commissioners and the judge, in an effort to prevent the release of documents.  Mr. Knox has not responded to my request as to who initiated this agenda item.  He should not be initiating it himself. This is like an act of insubordination - doing the opposite of what you are instructed to do." 


RELATED STORY: Economic Development Key Issue This Election Year



BACKGROUND:

Former Brevard County Clerk of Court Mitch Needelman entered into a $6.1 million loan with Hewlett Packard after losing the primary election to Ellis in 2012.  Needelman then used the loan proceeds as an upfront payment to BlueWare before the company ever fulfilled its scanning contract with the Clerk's office.   



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.  


Ellis continues to assert that the loan done by Needelman, BlueGEM, Harr, and Hewlett-Packard was illegal and unconstitutional in repeated legal actions brought by HP against the Clerk's Office for repayment of the loan. 


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.   In 2013, Ellis repeatedly requested that the EDC turn over its BlueWare documents so that he could defend the lawsuits brought by HP. However, the EDC refused to hand over all of its BlueWare documents to Ellis.


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 that 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 that last public records request, Ellis then filed the lawsuit which is now on appeal.



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:

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