Takeaways from Tallahassee — New Mayor, new style
There used to be 11 city-funded positions in the Tallahassee Mayor’s Office.
But now that number is four (if you include the receptionist).
Newly sworn-in Mayor John Dailey said he cut the seven positions — a mix of paid fellows and interns — because his new team coalesced around the idea of downsizing, at least in his office.
“Every Mayor should have the opportunity to create the team that they believe is the most efficient for their leadership style,” Dailey said. He still has the top three posts: chief of staff and directors for internal and external affairs.
By the same standard, Dailey didn’t criticize former Mayor Andrew Gillum, who ran for Governor while serving as Tallahassee’s ceremonial leader.
“The mayor is considered to be a ‘leadership mayor,’ whose role includes presiding at city commission meetings (and) serving as the ceremonial head of the government,” the city’s website says. “Tallahassee’s mayor is not considered a ‘strong mayor’ because the position has no veto power and represents only one vote on the city commission.”
The early cuts to the office do not necessarily portend how Dailey’s administration will handle budget decisions in the future. But the new Mayor did add that “any time we can make things more efficient, we need to consider taking the right policy steps to do so.”
Fellows and interns staff other city departments, Dailey noted. He also said the positions were funded by the budget of the Mayor’s Office. Instead, they were supported by a city-administered program, meaning the new cuts won’t move the needle on money funding Dailey’s own operations.
But what could change the numbers is a budget proposal he’s prepared for Wednesday’s City Commission meeting: A shift to move oversight of state and federal lobbying contracts to the City Manager’s Office.
According to Dailey, the move would transfer about $180,000 to City Manager Reese Goad.
Getting good representation for the city is something that should be handled outside of just the Mayor’s office, Dailey said. That’s the norm for similar city governments, he added.
“I am interested in streamlining our focus and getting back to the basics,” Dailey said of his position.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
DeSantis staffs up — Shane Strum will serve as chief of staff for Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis. Strum has been senior vice president at South Florida’s Memorial Healthcare System and was vice chancellor of business development for Keiser University after serving as a 2010 transition adviser to outgoing Gov. Rick Scott. This won’t Strum’s first go around in the Governor’s Office; he served as Chief of Staff to former Gov. Charlie Crist. The chief of staff hire is one of the most important first steps an incoming official can take. As former Gov. Reubin Askew once said (documented in Florida TaxWatch’s “Governor’s Transition Decision Handbook”): “Hire your Chief of Staff and Communications Director first. Your most important appointment is your Chief of Staff because he or she is pivotal to the administration of government.”
Inauguration plans in motion — Prep for the two-day Inauguration of Gov.-elect DeSantis and Lt. Governor-elect Jeanette Nuñez is underway. The Inaugural Committee this week unveiled the theme for the ceremonies Jan. 7 and Jan. 8: “Bold Vision for a Brighter Future.” Key staff leadership for the event includes Executive Director Justin Caporale, Deputy Executive Director Jaclyn Schwinghamer, Director of Operations Jordan Wiggins and Chief of Staff Nicole Rees. In other “transition news,” Agriculture Commissioner-elect Nikki Fried unveiled her own transition team to be chaired by Patrick Murphy, a former U.S. Representative and 2016 U.S. Senate candidate. Notably, Fried also has enlisted the aid of former state Sen. Denise Grimsley, who ran this year for Agriculture Commissioner but lost in the Republican primary.
Shake-up season — Some of the state’s top officials are planning to leave their posts as a new Governor and two new Cabinet members are primed to take over in Tallahassee. Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Mike Dew told his colleagues he’d soon be stepping down. (He’s now joined the DeSantis transition.) Gov. Rick Scott named Dew, then the department’s chief of staff, as Secretary last June. Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Wes Maul also will leave his post as Gov.-elect DeSantis takes office in January. Scott appointed Maul to the post in 2017 after former Director Bryan Koon’s resignation shortly after Hurricane Irma swept through the state. Susie Wiles, DeSantis’ former campaign manager and current transition team leader said the Governor-elect “has been interviewing for many agency head positions.”
Old and new bills filed — While it’s early, bills are pouring in ahead of the 2019 Legislative Session. This week lawmakers filed some bills that have failed in previous years, in the hopes that they’ll catch traction this time around. Some new legislative pushes also are underway. State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo filed a bill again this year that would safeguard affordable housing dollars in the state’s Sadowski Trust Fund. In the past, lawmakers have ‘swept’ funds away from the Trust to pay for other budget items. State Rep. Rick Roth renewed an older push to make it harder to amend the state constitution. His bill would require two-thirds support instead of the 60-percent support threshold currently in place. State Sen. Rob Bradley filed a bill again this year that would help enable homeowners to grow vegetables in their front yards. On the new side of things, an all-out handheld cellphone ban was filed in both the House and Senate. Last year, some lawmakers tried to tighten the ban on texting while driving, although it failed. As well, state Sen. Lauren Book filed a bill that would move oversight of the state’s concealed-carry weapons program to FDLE. The program is currently supervised and staffed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Ruling pending for Senate discrimination case — U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle agreed Friday to hold off on ruling on the state Senate’s lawyers sovereign immunity defense against a legislative aide’s sexual harassment claim. The aide, Rachel Perrin Rogers, chief assistant to state Sen. Wilton Simpson, in line to be Senate President in 2020-22, says former Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala groped her and made unwelcome comments about her body over four years.
State officials laud lower crime
Crime data recorded by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show crime volume in the state dropped 8 percent during the first six months of this year when compared to the same period in 2017.
That means there were 24,564 fewer crimes between January and June in 2018. And the good news has caught the attention of the state’s leaders.
“In Florida, families expect to be able to find a great job, ensure their kids get a top-notch education, and live in a safe and strong community,” said Gov. Scott. “As Governor, I have fought every day to deliver on these priorities so that every family in Florida has the opportunity to achieve their dreams.”
“Florida’s falling crime rate is a testament to the hard work and selfless actions of our courageous law enforcement officers and dedicated prosecutors,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said.
“These public servants work nights, weekends and holidays, putting themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe — and I am eternally grateful for their service to the state of Florida.”
“None of this success would be possible without the incredible work and constant sacrifice of the brave members of Florida’s law enforcement who have helped us reach a 47-year low in crime,” added Scott.
Regulators: Flood insurance should stay priority
The hurricane season may be behind us, but state officials are warning Floridians not to be “complacent” — especially when it comes to flood insurance.
State Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis recently urged Floridians to review their insurance policies and secure flood insurance coverage.
“Flooding can happen anywhere and anytime, and there are many policy options available to protect your home and business,” Patronis, who was elected for a four-year term earlier this month, said. “Do not wait until it’s too late.”
“Catastrophic flooding is not limited to the six-month hurricane season or how close in proximity one’s home is to the coast,” added Altmaier. “Due to the unique geography of our state, flooding poses a serious threat to virtually every homeowner and can occur at a moment’s notice at any time.”
Instagram of the week
Irma recovery effort gets boost
More money is on the way to Rebuild Florida, a state-federal partnership seeking to provide long-term aid to those who suffered home damage from Hurricane Irma.
The Department of Economic Opportunity announced an additional $157 million would go toward the effort. DEO partnered with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Rebuild Florida.
Gov. Scott and HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced Rebuild Florida in June. It prioritizes the most-impacted communities and the most vulnerable low-income individuals, including the elderly, those with disabilities and families with young children.
The new money will head to Clay, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Osceola counties. Certain portions of St. Johns, Seminole, Hendry, Highlands and Pasco will benefit as well.
“Families all across our state are still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Irma,” DEO Secretary Cissy Proctor said. “Due to Governor Scott’s leadership and our team’s dedication, we have secured this additional funding which allows us to repair and rebuild more homes for additional families across the state.”
Apalachicola estuary center reopens
The Nature Center at Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, or ANERR, is back up and operating in a limited capacity.
Hurricane Michael flooded lower levels of ANERR when it hit the state in October, affecting pumps and filtration systems that maintain the aquariums in the center.
The aquariums still are closed, but visitors now are invited to view are a new, temporary exhibit by Dr. Stan Kunigelis showcasing macroscopic photographs of copepods, small crustaceans found in nearly every freshwater and saltwater habitat.
According to a news release from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), “the reserve is on its way to full recovery.”
Photogs recognized for parks snapshots
Florida State Parks recently announced the winners of its summer photo contest.
Taking home the top honor is Linda Wilinski for her photo, “Sunrise Paddle,” capturing a warm morning at Lake Louisa State Park.
The parks department, overseen by DEP, gave her an inflatable stand up paddle board and an annual family pass to enjoy Florida parks.
Second-place winner Heather Chadwick will take home a 12-day pass to any parks and a heart-rate monitor watch for her photo of an owl at Myakka River State Park.
Coming in at third is Lana Velazquez for her snapshot of a surfer in Sebastian Inlet Park. Her award is a six-day parks pass and a Garmin GPS.
“Linda, Heather and Lana did a terrific job of capturing the moments that make Florida State Parks special,” said Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper. “I saw so many great submissions for this summer’s contest, and I’m grateful for all the talented photographers who shared images of our state parks.”
More than 2,700 artists submitted photos for the contest, which ran from July through September. View more photos from the competition here.
Act on climate change, environmentalists say
The toxic blue-green algae and red tide outbreaks that have shaped a bad narrative for Florida’s waters resulted in part from increased global temperatures, Florida Conservation Voters (FCV) contends.
That, coupled with strong hurricanes, is what prompted FCV to urge newly named legislative leaders to spawn a special committee on climate change for the upcoming 2019 Legislative Session.
Via a hand-delivered letter, FCV is encouraging House Speaker José Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano to create the joint committee, citing reports of worsening climate conditions from groups like the United Nations, NASA, NOAA and Department of Defense.
“It is time to put politics aside and get to work solving the biggest challenge of our time,” reads the letter from the group that touts more than 90,000 supporters.
“The Florida Constitution is clear about the role of the Legislature as it pertains to protecting our natural resources and scenic beauty,” FCV Executive Director Aliki Moncrief said. “Our elected officials have a moral responsibility to enact laws to reduce water and air pollution and to protect our communities from the grave dangers posed by climate change.”
Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) is partnering with a public-private manufacturing association to benefit suppliers and companies across the state.
“This partnership brings together the collective interests of Florida’s anchor manufacturing enterprises, predominantly multinational, through AIF with the state’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers, largely privately-held, through the regional manufacturing associations,” said Kevin Carr, CEO of FloridaMakes, which is teaming up with AIF.
Added AIF President and CEO Tom Feeney: “We look forward to the momentum and impact this collaboration will bring as we work together to strengthen the competitiveness and profitability of manufacturers in the state of Florida.”
AIF works collaboratively to advance policies at the federal and state level that would benefit manufacturers.
Similarly, FloridaMakes serves regional pockets of manufacturers. Its mission is to strengthen and advance the productivity and technological performance of Florida’s manufacturing sector.
Floridians for Reproductive Freedom revamps site
One of the voices supporting women’s reproductive rights just got a new website.
Floridians for Reproductive Freedom, a coalition of more than 50 organizations and advocate for reproductive health care access, highlighted some of the new aspects this week.
The new Speaker’s Bureau section is a resource for event organizers and media outlets, complete with a list of expert contacts behind the abortion rights movement.
“We are committed to raising awareness and reducing the stigma associated with abortion,” said Charo Valero, Florida State Policy Director for National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health about the Speaker’s Bureau.
The site also features a video on pregnancy clinics that the group calls “fake” and a listing of current related issues and events in the state.
To view the group’s video, click on the image below:
PSC commish a ‘Notable Nole’
Florida State University recently recognized alumnus Andrew Fay, one of the youngest members ever to serve on the Public Service Commission (PSC).
FSU distinguished Fay as a Notable Nole earlier this month. The award honors individuals for “their significant contributions to their professions, communities or alma mater,” according to the university’s alumni association.
Fay was named to the regulatory utility panel earlier this year and subsequently confirmed by the Senate. He is a two-time graduate of FSU, where he received his B.S. in 2007 and J.D. in 2010.
“I appreciate the recognition and thank the FSU Alumni Association for this honor,” said Commissioner Fay. “FSU provided the education, opportunities, and experience that led to my early success in law and public policy.
“I’m grateful and hope to continue making a difference for Florida as a Florida Public Service Commissioner.”
Demand up for FSU grad programs
More than 9,700 students applied to the Graduate School at Florida State University ahead of this fall.
That’s up 11 percent on the college’s record-setting 2012 application count. And more students also are enrolled then compared to six years ago.
Sally McRorie, provost and vice president for academic affairs, attributed the growth to the recently established Graduate Enrollment Team.
“If you want to find an enthusiastic, highly focused team, take a look at our graduate enrollment staff,” McRorie said. “They work with colleges, departments and programs across campus to help bring highly qualified graduate students to FSU — a very important component in meeting our strategic plan goals as well as our goal to reach the Top 25 among public universities.”
FSU helping students with autism
Researchers at Florida State University have published a study that could help libraries across the U.S. better serve students with autism.
A growing population of students are on the autism spectrum. It’s the fastest-growing disability, with about 1.7 percent of children being diagnosed with it each year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Professors Nancy Everhart and Juliann Woods, both international scholars at FSU’s College of Communication and Information, launched Project A+ to develop ideas to reduce library anxiety and help students with autism learn.
“The study’s 130-plus page manual provides specific techniques, objectives, checklists and videos for librarians and staff,” according to the university.
“It is a comprehensive resource, including chapters on how ASD influences life on college campuses, the importance of organizing a library environment to support students with autism and how technology can enhance their social and vocational independence.”
FSU libraries already have started implementing the study’s suggestions.
“This collaboration has given us much better insights about what we do well, where we have opportunities to improve and how to structure our spaces and services,” said Michael Meth, associate dean of Research and Learning Services at FSU Libraries.
Fired FAMU coaches win another day in court
Former FAMU football head coach Earl Holmes and basketball head coach Clemon Johnson are entitled to trials on breach of contract and related claims arising from their firings in 2014, a Tallahassee appeals court has ruled.
The 1st District Court of Appeal cited possible conflicts between university employment regulations and the coaches’ four-year contracts, and said they might attempt to resolve those ambiguities at trial.
“To find the appointments terminable by FAMU at will, merely upon 60 days’ notice, could impermissibly render the specified end dates and provisions for early termination for cause in the contracts virtual dead letters, that is, unnecessary and of no effect,” the court said.
“We are uncertain whether that was the parties’ intention in entering into the agreement.”
Lest we forget: Hurricane Michael toy drive
The REBUILD 850 Initiative, a massive relief effort coordinated by some of the best and brightest in Tallahassee and beyond, is setting up a toy drive to help better the holidays for kids affected by Hurricane Michael.
Donations will be collected from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Tallahassee Democrat, 277 N. Magnolia Drive.
“Some of these children have lost everything — it’s heartbreaking,” said former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who joined to REBUILD 850 effort shortly after its inception.
“Opening a toy during the holidays can give a child a feeling of normalcy and joy in a time when it’s needed most.”
Also sponsoring “Fill-A-Truck” toy and funds drive is AMWAT Moving Warehousing & Storage, Prime South Properties, Tallahassee Board of Realtors, Sachs Media Group, Rogers, Gunter, Vaughn Insurance, Junior League of Tallahassee and the Tallahassee Democrat.
“We are urging businesses, families, and organizations to collect and bring donations to this toy drive,” added former state House Speaker Will Weatherford, who launched REBUILD 850 alongside another former Speaker, Allan Bense.
“Collecting these donations is critical for supporting Panhandle communities and families to enjoy this holiday season.”
New law firm sets up shop in Tallahassee
Attorneys Diana Cohn and Dwight Slater have launched a new capital city firm specializing in family law, administrative law and appeals.
Cohn Slater “will represent Florida’s working families at all levels of the state court system, defending their rights and protecting their loved ones and their livelihoods,” according to a news release announcing the law shop.
“Our firm will provide the strong and steady hand so many families desperately need as they work through their differences,” Cohn said. “We are committed to building a law firm that bolsters Tallahassee’s standing as one of the best cities to raise a family.”
Cohn and Slater previously worked together at the Florida Department of Children and Families. Cohn served as Managing Attorney, and Slater was the Appellate Counsel of Children’s Legal Services. Slater has also handled professional licensing issues at the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Financial Services.
Their motto? “Take complex legal issues, simplify them, and find unique and creative solutions.”
The two attorneys will represent clients in Leon, Wakulla, Gadsden, Franklin, Jefferson, and Liberty County civil court cases, and before state agencies, the Division of Administrative Hearings, Florida’s District Courts of Appeal, and the Florida Supreme Court.