Thursday, May 8, 2014

Florida Governor's Northrop Grumman Announcement Botched By Leak

UPDATE:  Governor Scott Announces Northrop Grumman Coming To Brevard


Governor Rick Scott
MELBOURNE, Florida -- In what could be the worst public relations blunder of Florida's gubernatorial election, Florida Governor Rick Scott's announcement of the biggest job creation project made during his term in office was botched by a leak to the press.


The secretive deal is known as "Project Magellan" that state and local economic development officials claim will bring 1,800 jobs to Florida's Space Coast with an average salary of $100,000. 


The 'officially unknown' company is slated to receive nearly $21 million from the State of Florida plus an approximate match of $5 million from several local governments in Brevard County, Florida. 


Additionally, the new buildings constructed by the company at the Melbourne International Airport would be owned by Space Florida and leased back to the company so that it could avoid paying local and school property taxes for 50 years, according to documents filed with the City of Melbourne.


Usually, the Governor would appear for a job creation project of this magnitude.  In fact, he attended the grand opening of a much smaller economic development project on Wednesday morning, a shrimp farm in Fellsmere, located just 25 miles away from Melbourne.


But the Governor was deprived of all the positive publicity that such a big jobs announcement would generate when the Florida Today newspaper, citing "multiple sources with direct knowledge of the project," published an exclusive article around 5 p.m. on Tuesday naming Northrop Grumman as the mystery company.


EDC CEO Lynda Weatherman
Florida Today's exclusive article was followed thirty minutes later by an email from the Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce to the media that the formal announcement for Project Magellan would be made by Lynda Weatherman, CEO for the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast (EDC), on Wednesday between 11:30 a.m. and noon at the Chamber's monthly luncheon.  Florida Today sponsored the luncheon.



However, around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the Chamber sent out another email to the media stating that "...there is a chance the press briefing may not happen today..." [but might occur] "...in the event the governor signs off on the project before the luncheon and the EDC is free to move forward with the press conference..."


After it was revealed that EDC officials were still bound by Florida's economic development confidentiality statutes, Brevard Times inquired to the Governor's office on Wednesday morning if it was investigating the source of the leak and what effect the leak would have on other out-of-state companies who might be considering working with Florida's economic development agencies.  The Governor's Office did not respond to the inquiry.


Brevard Times also sent an email to the EDC asking whether it had started an investigation into the confidentiality breach.  According to Florida Statute 288.075, such a breach is a second degree misdemeanor.   The EDC did not respond to the Brevard Times email.


Just last year, the EDC cited Florida Statute 288.075 and the possibility of criminal prosecution as a reason not to produce documents related to the Blueware scandal to Brevard County Clerk of Court, Scott Ellis. 


When it became evident later on Wednesday that an official announcement was not forthcoming and the project remained confidential, Florida Today, which holds a seat on the EDC Board of Directors, published another article that changed the description of its sources to "familiar with the deal who were not authorized to comment publicly because of the sensitive nature of the project."


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Economic Development Key Issue This Election Year